The media has been replete this past week with stories about the President’s age and whether he will (or should) run for another term. At age 79, Biden is already the oldest person to serve as President; he would be 86 at the end of a second term, eclipsing Ronald Reagan’s age by nearly a decade. Peter Baker writes in the New York Times, “as Mr. Biden insists he plans to run for a second term, his age has increasingly become an uncomfortable issue for him, his team and his party.”
As a demographic peer of the President, I can sympathize with the President’s desire for a second term. I can relate to the idea of wanting to continue his career, having more to say and accomplish and being impatient with those who would counsel against proceeding with things I love to do in life because I am “too old.” But there is one marked difference between Joe Biden and me: I am not the President of the United States.
The energy it takes for me to continue those things that interest me—writing these posts, working with others to reimagine worship at my church, penning occasional poetry, serving on a couple of Boards, dabbling in academia—is a fraction of the vitality demanded of the Commander in Chief. The responsibilities I carry—which I admit can seem daunting on occasion—are less than negligible compared to those of the President. The impact of my decisions—while important to my life and to family members and close friends—pales drastically compared to the impact that Biden’s decisions have upon this country and, indeed, the whole world.
And thankfully, while the President remains vigorous, his recent positive Covid test keeps us mindful that his age makes him vulnerable to infection, disease and all manner of debilitating illness. Peter Baker remarks, “Mr. Biden looks older than just a few years ago, a political liability that cannot be solved by traditional White House stratagems like staff shake-ups or new communications plans. His energy level, while impressive for a man of his age, is not what it was, and some aides quietly watch out for him.”
To be clear, I marvel at the schedule he keeps and his ability to juggle the intensely diverse and chaotic developments in any given day. And, while there is an element of “the wisdom that comes with age” in his leadership, this is coupled by a greater risk of suffering a debilitating health crisis than if he were 20 years younger.
“Right now, there’s no evidence that the age of Biden should matter one ounce,” said S. Jay Olshansky, a longevity specialist at the University of Illinois Chicago, [but] “You can’t sugarcoat aging. Things go wrong as we get older and the risks rise the older we get.” As we approach the lengthy 2024 election season, it is important for each of us to consider whether or not we can support someone of the President Biden’s age in a run for the White House.
And then, there is this, as dramatically revealed during the hearings of the House Select Committee on January 6th: the contrast, as pointed out by Hannah Seariac in Utah’s Deseret News, between the sometimes halting leadership between an aging president—and, frankly, the vast majority of the those in power in Washington (in both parties)—and the courageous, cogent, poised and intelligent testimony offered by young female White House staffers Cassidy Hutchinson and Sarah Matthews, Capitol policewoman Caroline Edwards and election worker Shaye Moss.
Closing remarks from the week’s final hearing by Vice-Chair Liz Cheney called this out explicitly, saying that these young women are “an inspiration to American women and American girls.” Specifically citing Cassidy Hutchinson, Cheney said, she “knew all along that she would be attacked by President Trump and by the 50-, 60- and 70-year-old men who hide themselves behind executive privilege…But like our witnesses today, she has courage and she did it anyway.”
As one who is aging along with the President, I worry about the future of our country being led by individuals whose reference points for decision making often lie in the past. We older white men have such a limited perspective on reality. It is so easy to miss things, to view our rapidly changing world through the cloudy lens of cause-and-effect ground rules shaped by the distant past. But this concern is balanced by a profound comfort that the future for my children and grandchildren will be shaped by the likes of Cassidy Hutchinson, Caroline Edwards and Shaye Moss. That gives me hope.