By John Rolfe / Red Hook, N.Y.
He’s senile and confused.
He doesn’t know where he is or what day it is.
He wanders around looking vacant.
He’s clumsy and frail.
The White House staff is afraid he’ll trip over an electrical cord and crack his head open.
Such is the daily drumbeat of falsehoods about President Joe Biden. Most of it comes from right-wing opponents and media, but even many Democrats and liberal pundits like Michelle Goldberg are joining the “Biden is too old” chorus.
You’ve probably heard about the July 12 poll of registered voters conducted by the New York Times and Siena College that said only 26 percent of Democrats want Biden to seek re-election in 2024. The main objections: his age (79) and his job performance. (At a paltry 32 percent, Biden’s approval rating is below Donald Trump’s at a similar point in Trump’s term.)
When I watch Biden, I see a man who looks and sounds his age, but is hardly a doddering, disoriented old fool. I have to laugh when Trump supporters say Biden makes no sense when he speaks. Trump sounds far more incoherent, and at 76 is not much younger or more vital. But when Biden misspeaks or falls off a bike, as he did in June, he is fair game for those who say he is incapable of being president. Some even claim with great certainty that he will resign before the end of his term.
Biden is, by many reliable accounts, still mentally sharp and in good physical condition. We take for granted that he has the weight of the world on his shoulders and precious few allies to help him carry it. Yet he is doing as good a job as he possibly can with the terrible cards he’s been dealt: an ongoing pandemic, worldwide inflation, obstructionists in Congress, bitter social polarization, the war in Ukraine, global warming, and the list goes on.
If I had to deal with all that, I’d be a gibbering wreck wandering around in a daze. But Biden continues to fight his thankless fight and is apparently still the only Democrat who can beat Trump in a rematch. The Times/Siena poll says if the election were held today, Biden would prevail by a slim margin of 44 to 41 percent (assuming Trump and his allies in red state legislatures don’t succeed in overturning the result). But whether Biden can do the impossible — unite a country that is rapidly becoming a federation of entrenched red and blue states — is a key question.
As it is, a Biden vs. Trump rematch is a very unappealing choice for most Americans, especially younger ones. According to the poll, only six percent of those under age 30 want Biden to run again. However, Trump shouldn’t breathe easy. A whopping 70 percent in the same age group have soured on him.
Spotty track records aside, this is no country for old men (or women), even though many of our key leaders are of considerable vintage, among them Mitch McConnell (80), Nancy Pelosi (82) and Chuck Schumer (71).
Already the oldest man ever elected president, Biden would be 82 at the beginning of a second term. He’d also be an even more inviting target. In our youth-fixated culture, the elderly are one of the last remaining groups whom it is acceptable to mock and ridicule. The belief that they are incompetent, unproductive and heavily dependent on others starts early.
"Age stereotypes are often internalized at a young age — long before they are even relevant to people," psychologist Becca Levy told the American Psychological Association. (APA).
Levy says that by the age of four, children are familiar with age stereotypes that are reinforced during their lifetimes by media and entertainment as well as societal attitudes.
Heck, I can attest to that. I drive a school bus, and when my elementary school passengers asked how I old I was, one cried, “That’s really old! You’re going to die soon!”
The truth is that even though my carcass is creakier and my memory a little more sieve-like than it was in my prime, I’m still feeling good and energetic, though. Working and remaining active into your 70s and even 80s is no longer rare.
According to the APA, Americans over the age of 85 are the country’s fastest growing segment of the population. Nearly 35 million are 65 or older. But age is a double-edged sword in politics.
On the one hand, there is a demand for younger, more vital candidates who can tackle the country’s complex problems and forcefully engage the other party in the war for America’s direction. On the other hand, in uncertain times people tend to cling to the familiar.
Joe Biden is certainly familiar. Having held elected national office since 1972, he represents the old tried-and-true, moderate status quo. Of course, familiarity breeds contempt, as the old saying goes. So does age.
That is just one more unenviable fact of life in the world Joe Biden has on his shoulders. That he would want to keep that weight there until his mid-80s suggests he is either very noble or quite foolish.
John Rolfe is a former senior editor for Sports Illustrated for Kids, a longtime columnist for the Poughkeepsie Journal/USA Today Network, and author of The Goose in the Bathroom: Stirring Tales of Family Life. His school bus drivin’ blog “Hellions, Mayhem and Brake Failure” is parked on his website Celestialchuckle.com (https://celestialchuckle.com) with the meter running.