A pastime around our office in early 2021 was guessing when Democrats would begin to point out that President Joe Biden was too old for the job and should pack it in. The consensus was after a drubbing in the midterm election, but congrats to the colleague (he knows who he is) who figured sometime early this year. He wins the office pool because the drive to shove the president out the door has already begun.
The New York Times kicked off the kicking with a story quoting various progressive sages suddenly admitting what everyone has known all along: Biden is the oldest serving U.S. president at age 79, and he'll be 82 when he finishes his term. He looks and sounds every bit his age. This declaration of the obvious has now moved along the progressive media chorus line to the Atlantic, with a piece that asserts "Let me put this bluntly: Joe Biden should not run for re-election in 2024. He is too old."
These stories treat this as a revelation, as if Biden suddenly showed some dramatic decline. The truth is that the president demonstrated he had lost a verbal, and maybe mental, step in the first Democratic candidate debate in 2019. He hasn't improved. Democrats admitted it privately at the time, but they rallied to him during the South Carolina primary when it looked like he was the only Democrat who could hold off the nomination of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and defeat Donald Trump.
The rest of the campaign was a long apologia for Biden's strategy of limiting his public exposure by campaigning in his Delaware basement. COVID-19 was the perfect excuse, and woe to any journalist who dared to ask if Biden wasn't the same man we knew as vice president. The subject was taboo.
This was one of the great free campaign passes in history. Ronald Reagan's age was a subject of agonized media concern when he ran for president at age 69 in 1980. He was roasted after he stumbled in the first debate against Walter Mondale in 1984, and he had to defuse the media and public doubts with a quip about Mondale's "youth and inexperience" in the next debate.
The Gipper was three weeks shy of 78 when he left office, which was younger than Biden was when he entered the Oval. If the president runs and serves a second term, he'd be 86 on his final day on the job. But Biden was needed to defeat Trump, and so all of this age business had to be ignored in 2020.
Why the Democratic turn now? One obvious answer is that the president is down in the polls, and his low approval rating may cost Democrats control of Congress in November. The problem can't be the party's ideas, or Biden's adoption of the Sanders agenda after he'd campaigned as a moderate. The problem has to be Biden. He's suddenly not up to the burdens of the Oval Office that have aged even younger men. He can't make the case for his ideas. He's overwhelmed by crises.
You almost have to feel sorry for Biden, who saved his party from Trump but is expendable now that he's a political liability. You can almost hear Biden shouting at his staff: Where's the gratitude? You think Bernie or Mayor Pete would have beaten Trump? I'm the guy who saved democracy.