Surprise, most of us are ageist. But Biden will help people get over it.
Polls have shown many Democrats want a candidate other than Joe Biden for'24. But why is that exactly? And does anyone believe he won't be the Democratic nominee?
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Polls — at least those taken before his vigorous State of the Union address — have shown that a majority of Democrats want a candidate other than Joe Biden for the 2024 presidential race. This goes back many months, and up to a recent Washington Post/ ABC News poll:
Many of them had issues with his age but said that, despite their apathy, they would still cast a ballot for him against a Republican like former President Donald Trump or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Biden, who is currently the oldest sitting president at 80, would be 82 if he is inaugurated for a second term and would be 86 when he left the White House.
Democrats like Stephen Couture, 68, think someone younger should be the party's nominee in 2024.
"He's done a fine job. That's not the issue," Couture said. "Where's his mental state gonna be another six years from now if he would be president again?"
I’m not here to lecture people about derogatorily calling someone “old.” It’s not ageist to do so, I believe, if it’s about something other than merely age. There are many politicians who are too old — and there are old strategists, commentators, journalists, and activists — but in my mind they are old because they embrace a calcified establishment position, and have been averse to change.
It’s true that they happen to be old in years as well, but that’s not what makes them “too old” to me. It’s the embracing of conventional wisdom — I think of Andrea Mitchell of NBC when she’s anchoring on MSNBC — and not their wrinkled skin or their stumbling over a word here and there.
In that sense, Biden is not old. His performance at the State of the Union is rightly being lauded for the vigor he showed, taking on the right-wing extremists — even if he did stumble over a word or two. But more importantly, it was his steadfast promotion of policies that are in tune with the vast majority of Americans — including young Americans — that showed he is not withering away. To the contrary, he often morphs into a mythical age-defying superhero, Dark Brandon, as the hilarious meme explodes time and again on social media, propelled by young people.
Biden has changed tremendously over the years, and after the competitive 2020 primaries he got behind many of the progressive positions of those who were running against him — which is what happens in a healthy primary race with lots of debate — and proved he was in touch with the electorate, which is geographically, racially and religiously diverse. In the 2022 mid-terms, just as in 2020, younger voters turned out in huge numbers and delivered for Democrats because their policies were championed and the alternative was exceedingly dangerous.
So when I see someone like the man quoted above saying Biden has “done a fine job” but asking about his “mental state” in another six years, I can’t help but think that that’s what many said two years ago about how Biden would be in two years — and he’s instead done a fantastic job. And even if Biden is not in great shape at some point and something happens to him, that’s why we have a vice president. Let’s be honest: Anything can happen to any president at any age, and bad things have tragically happened to far younger presidents.
If Biden’s ideas — at least in terms of what he’s done and wants to do — were old, I’d say so. But to deem him as too old just because of his age is ageist. If Biden were 55 or 65, there would be no discussion about replacing him or having him face a primary.
Here is a president who passed massive legislation with only a very narrow majority in Congress — and got bipartisan support for much of it in a time when the GOP is more extreme than it’s been in decades, or perhaps ever. A president who built a coalition and unified NATO against Russia’s war against Ukraine and aggression against the West.
A president who took us out of a once-in-a-century global pandemic, getting life-saving vaccines to people, and who pushed back a recession by invigorating the economy even as opponents and the media claimed inflation — brought on by the pandemic — would harm it. And a president who, with his party, came through a midterm election that was one for the history books, where there was no red wave by the opposition party — rightly because he warned of threats to democracy.
How could anyone say such a president shouldn’t run for re-election, and, again, would they be saying so if if were much younger? The answer is absolutely not.
And it’s not like there is someone waiting in the wings who would unite the entire party. Even those who are being floated as heirs to Biden’s presidency happen to be working within the administration, such as Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg, and a lot of people feel neither is ready. As Perry Bacon, a columnist for the Washington Post notes: “The main reason Biden is almost certain to be the Democrats’ 2024 nominee is that the party doesn’t have a clear way to choose a strong alternative candidate.”
And if it’s a choice between Biden being old and Donald Trump’s authoritarianism or Ron DeSantis stripping Social Security and Medicare, it’s Biden all the way.
So right now it’s nobody except Biden. He’s made a lot of history already, defying the prognosticators and many of us voters, and now he’ll do it again. People are living longer and working longer (yes, even as we’ve actually seen a first-time drop in the mortality rate among men) and making different choices. Biden will show that in 2023 being 80 or 85 isn’t the same as it was in the past. It will be remarked on, and another milestone achieved, and then we’ll move on.
It’s a better scenario than an intra-party battle over something that is only about age — something largely shallow — as Republicans are divided and fighting one another. We need young voices, for sure, and I’m confident there are younger Democratic politicians ready for the presidency after Biden’s second term. But right now we’ve seen things only going in a good direction in a dangerous time, and we need to keep that continuing.