Everybody seems to be old these days.
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Quelle surprise: the old guy who likes being president (and isn’t bad at it) wants to keep doing it!
I never thought this reelection campaign was in doubt, if only because I couldn’t see the alternative. Eighty-year-old Joe Biden has the gravitas to finish off Trump again, and sometimes it takes a wily old coot to beat a psychotic old coot.
As old people will tell you, age is a relative thing. (As I’m only partly old, I’ll only partly tell you that.)
And anyway, 80 is the new 60. (Gail Collins thinks 90 is the new 60.) My father-in-law is fitter than I am. The combined age of the three surviving Rolling Stones is 233. Bob Dylan is how old now? (Don’t worry, copyeditor, I know: he’s 81.)
Even in the US Senate the average age is 64 (cue the Beatles song they’re all old enough to know by heart). What do you expect with access to better health care than most of us have? (Well, mine’s pretty good; I live in England.)
Of course there’s a tradition to this.
Strom Thurmond, that cranky old racist, sat in the Senate till he was 100. First elected to the South Carolina Senate in 1932, he was still rolling around the Capitol in his wheelchair almost 70 years later.
He was a one-man US history lesson, at 22 knocking up his family’s 16-year-old Black maid, parachuting behind enemy lines on D-Day (he won a Purple Heart), running a third-party presidential campaign as a segregationist Dixiecrat in 1948, and filibustering for over 24 hours in 1957 against desegregation.
In 1964, he voted against the Civil Rights Act and became a Republican. He made no bones about who he was: There were no skeletons in his Ku Klux Kloset — it was all out in the open, and he never changed.
Other oldsters get softened by age. Barry Goldwater, running as the Republican nominee for president in 1964 (he lost in a landslide to Lyndon Johnson), suggested using “low-yield atomic weapons” in Vietnam and famously remarked that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”
But in his final years, he was in a different political sphere. He criticized Nixon’s actions during the Watergate crisis and later supported gay rights.
Biden himself has moved from being a conservative Democrat to something of a progressive. He apologized for his mishandling of the Anita Hill controversy in 1991, and passed a massive rescue package that even Bernie Sanders called “the single most significant piece of legislation for working-class people that has been passed since the 1960s.”
By contrast, Trump (76) has gone from being a right-wing crank to sounding like a fascist demagogue, embracing QAnon and posting on social media that “The storm is coming.”
But age doesn’t change everyone. The late Queen Elizabeth II, who stayed in post till she died last September at 96, could be as inscrutable as the Mona Lisa. As a constitutional monarch she wasn’t supposed to let any political views be known — though after the disastrous Brexit vote she did wear a hat that looked suspiciously like the European flag.
When I was a kid, age meant wisdom, and even as an adult, the president of the United States was always older than I was. Then Barack Obama had the temerity to show me up and reach the White House as a whippersnapper of 47 (John F. Kennedy was only 43).
But we’re back to having the geezers in charge everywhere. Vladimir Putin is 70. Xi Jinping is 69 (as is Oprah Winfrey). Meryl Streep is 73, as is Bruce Springsteen. Tom Hanks is 66. Even Tom Cruise is 60.
President Reagan seemed like an old codger when he ran for reelection in 1984 at the age of 69. But he batted away concerns about his age in a debate with Walter Mondale, famously telling his opponent, “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” It was a great line (even Mondale cracked up), but it didn’t stop rumors of him beginning to lose his marbles well before the end of his second term.
Age is the Big Joke of Biden’s administration, but it really is the only joke. Compare that to the mirthless farce and clown show associated with Trump and Ron DeSantis, and Biden’s seniority looks relatively trivial. Even if he began to lose some of his marbles in his second term, I’d trust him with the nuclear codes sooner than I would Trump with his full set of tiddlywinks. But I suspect Trump has already lost much of his reason (what little he had), and DeSantis strikes me as cocksure in his incuriosity, operating on an instinct that seems wrong every time. Neither man knows how much he doesn’t know, which is a dangerous quality for a president.
So here we have it, a seriously old geezer announcing his reelection against a seriously cracked geezer.
Why not? Who else is there who could easily step into Biden’s orthopedic shoes? He’s already proved himself a Trump-slayer, this old codger with a Corvette. I’d put money on him doing it again.
So let the Geriatric Games begin!
J.B. Miller is an American writer living in England, and is the author of My Life in Action Painting and The Satanic Nurses and Other Literary Parodies.