Is President Biden so far gone in age that he is not fully functional? Of course, he’s not. For good or ill, he’s active and effective.
Well, if he should be re-elected, is he likely to become cognitively impaired or die while in office? Given his health habits, it’s a good bet he will be able to work hard for a long time to come. (Anyway, Biden’s life expectancy is surely greater than Donald Trump’s. And when it comes to vice presidents, Kamala Harris is light years more prepared to take over suddenly than, say, Kristi Noem.)
But will his age cost him too many votes? Possibly. Many people will not vote for anyone who is old. That means Biden will not be running against just a person but also against a widespread prejudice. For sure, advanced age could get in the way of being President, but not always, and when it doesn’t, being old may bring with it some ways of being that are not on offer to younger people and may be of great value to a President.
In early life, octogenarians spent time learning to read. Most young people and some who are not so young grew up hemmed in by computer technology. I don’t know the effect on five-year olds of tech versus the ABCs, but there can be no doubt that someone who read comic books in a tent by flashlight in childhood is a different person from one who was playing computer games in the tent. A much younger President would be more at home with computers than just about any octogenarian. So?
A President is not expected to understand how the Whitehouse plumbing works. He does not need to know how to adjust the timing on one of his official vehicles. And he does not need to be especially conversant with internet technology. He doesn’t have to use that rapid-thumb thing to send texts (if he even does send texts). When he needs computer-aided assistance or when his computer breaks, he turns to in-house tech support just like he relies on the General Services Administration to keep the toilets working. On the other hand, people who are in the thrall of technology find it difficult to hire someone to read for them – not in a satisfactory way.
There are geeky people who like to read as much as they like to putz around with computers, but techies are techies, word people are word people. And younger people, even those running for President, are likely to be more shaped by computer technology than by the printed word. That should concern us all.
Another thing. Old people are likely to see emergencies, policy questions, and the business of governing in historical perspective. An octogenarian will have personal experience of world-changing events, notably the Great Depression (if only the last years of it), the sacrifice and unified national effort of World War II, the social upheaval and suffering that came with Vietnam, McCarthyism. freedom trains and the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the beginnings of fewer restrictions on women, classmates crippled or dead from polio and the celebration of the vaccine to prevent it, and more.
Living these events is formative in a way that reading about them or hearing about them is not. Living through them does not always affect people for the better,of course. Whatever it did to Donald Trump, it did not give him perspective, restraint, or even a hint of wisdom. Still, it’s reasonable, isn’t it, that the world is better off if the President of the United States has more experience rather than less? There is a good chance that an older President will have better judgment than a substantially younger one.
One last thing. Old people are more likely than young ones to be blessed with composure, maybe even a quiet heart. A President who has seen much of communal suffering is probably more able to fulfill the role of national pastor. He/she can say “don’t be afraid. We’ve known hard times like this before. We got through them. We’ll get through this. America is still America.” That’s a tougher sell for a younger president.
In the final analysis, what it comes down to is this. Republicans accuse Biden of being too old because they can’t find much in his record to complain about. Democrats who approve of his performance often fear his age will cost him votes. The youngest people of both parties probably think he’s too old because he’s in that class of used-up geezers who prefer to get information from words printed on paper rather than from YouTube videos or TikTok.
There may be good reasons not to vote for Biden next year, but his age is not one of them.