Political insiders, ranging from journalists to members of the Vice President Kamala Harris’ team, believe there is a meaningful chance that Joe Biden won’t seek reelection. The implication is that they think Biden’s age will render him unable to mount a viable campaign in 2024.
While I find the political ramifications of Biden calling it a day to be intriguing, I can’t help but feel like everyone else is missing a much more important takeaway: If Biden won’t be fit to run in 2024, is he fit to be president now? There is no way to be concerned about Biden’s fitness for the campaign trail in 24 months, without implicitly suggesting there is reason to be concerned now. Yet articles continue to be written on this topic without connecting these dots.
You may be furrowing your brow, because claiming that Biden isn’t mentally fit enough to be president is a talking point of Trump’s Republican Party. This is true. But it was also a concern of Democrats during the primary up until Biden looked poised to be the nominee.
Here is Senator Cory Booker talking to CNN after a debate in 2019:
I think there were a lot of moments where a number of us were looking on the stage when he tends to go on sometimes. At one point, he was talking about communities like mine listening to record players. I don’t remember the last time I saw a record player... But there are definitely moments where you listen to Joe Biden and you just wonder.
In the same debate, Julian Castro sought to undermine Biden’s lead by going after his mental acuity.
Following the debate, Senator Bernie Sanders was played clips of Booker’s and Castro’s attack on Biden’s mental dexterity at a Fox News town hall. He deftly declined to pile on while also refusing to defend Joe Biden’s mental health. He responded by saying “[I’m] not going to go to that level in attacking... you know, that’s for people to decide.” This sentiment was echoed by Democratic Congressman and presidential hopeful Tim Ryan on the campaign trail, “I just think Biden is declining. I don’t think he has the energy. You see it almost daily. And I love the guy.”
At the beginning of the campaign, Biden himself stated it is “totally appropriate” for people to question his age. “Just like when I was 29, was I old enough? And now, am I fit enough?” He was right. He’s the oldest president in American history—it’s a fair question.
However, once Biden seemed poised to claim the nomination, it became taboo for Democrats to question his mental fitness. This isn’t due to some vast conspiracy; it’s just politics. All political incentives run against calling into question the fitness of your party’s nominee for president, and those incentives don’t dissipate if your nominee wins. I was more than happy to overlook my concerns about Biden’s agility since the alternative was another four years of President Trump.
While it might be politically expedient for Democrats to sweep all of this under the rug, it is time to reconsider whether that option is still viable. Authoritarianism is on the rise across the world. Russia’s President Putin and China’s President Xi are openly threatening to make land grabs.
As of October 19, according to Politico, President Biden had done 10 one-on-one interviews. At the same point in their presidencies, Trump had done 57 and Obama 131. This does not happen by accident. Biden’s team has presumably made the calculation that it is politically advantageous for him to avoid being questioned in public.
I can’t blame them for this calculation. His teleprompted speeches leave much to be desired, and his divergences from the script are unsettling to watch. In a recent CNN town hall, Biden claimed that America has a commitment to defend Taiwan if China attacked. This is not America’s position on this incredibly delicate issue, and the administration quickly walked those remarks back. Just this week, as the American people began to grow worried about the Omicron variant, the president took to the podium to try to calm the fears of the nation, but struggled to even get the variant's name correct. These are not encouraging indicators. If President Biden’s team doesn't trust him to hold his own in interviews, how could the American people trust him to hold his own against Putin or Xi?
I take no pleasure in believing Biden’s age is catching up to him and that it presents massive liabilities for America and the world. The crushing reality of aging is brutal and cruel. It would be evil to wish such a fate upon anyone, yet it's a fate we are all condemned to if we are lucky enough to reach old age.
Like aging, the world can also be brutal and cruel. We’d be wise to acknowledge these realities instead of wishing them away.