Why Biden's Age Might Not Be A Problem After All
Confession: For the past couple of years, I fell into the "Biden shouldn't run again" camp. Too old. Better not to ask Americans to reelect a man who will be 82 in November of 2024 and ... you know the rest. Nikki Haley summed it up tactlessly in April: "The idea that he would make it until 86 years old is not something that I think is likely."
But I've thought better of it. Yes, Biden is the oldest man ever elected president and bids fair to break his own record, but that's not entirely a bad thing.
We're all familiar with the usual narrative. Americans are awfully dubious about Biden's fitness. Only 32 percent in a recent poll said he has the "mental sharpness to serve effectively as president," and a mere 33 percent said he had the physical health to serve out another term. By contrast, 54 percent believe Trump, 77, has the mental fitness to serve, and 64 percent believe he has the physical fitness to serve. (I know. I know.)
So Biden has some work to do to prove that he's not senile or decrepit. This has been a favorite GOP talking point since 2020, yet Biden has not been able to debunk it despite owning the bully pulpit, so something has to change there. On the other hand, to the degree that people are simply concerned about age per se, there are many reasons to rest easy.
Nikki Haley is wrong. If you go to the Social Security longevity calculator and punch in Biden's sex and date of birth, you find that he can expect to live until age 89.1. That would carry him through a second term and then some, but the reality is even better than that. The Social Security number is just an average for all 80-year-old American men and doesn't take account of other reasons to expect Biden to age very well. He has advanced levels of education and wealth and lives in a safe neighborhood. He is white (alas, race does matter in longevity), married, and has a circle of good friends. He attends church. He doesn't drink or smoke and exercises five days a week. Other than a weakness for ice cream (which he clearly eats only in moderation), his diet seems good and his weight is in the healthy range. His father lived until 86 and his mother until 92.
There's one more thing: Biden is president of the United States, and it seems that people who achieve this office have a tendency to outlive others in their cohorts.
So worries that Biden is going to die before 2028 are overblown. Obviously, you can't rule it out — age is still the greatest risk factor for death — but it's far more likely that he will serve out his term. And his age carries some benefits.
As The Economist notes, older people are happier than younger people. Though it may seem counterintuitive to our youth-obsessed culture, it seems to be the case that happiness is U-shaped. People start out their adult lives pretty happy, then experience a drop in middle age and get progressively happier in their later years. This pattern holds true across nations and cultures.
Though many Republican primary voters probably hate the idea of a happy president, the rest of us can see the benefits. Happy people are less likely than others to be spiteful, petty, distracted, self-absorbed, or erratic. If you're thinking of a certain mango-hued counterexample, look, he has never been a normal human and defies all categories. For most people, research confirms, anger declines throughout life.
Biden, by contrast, does seem to have mellowed with age. I can recall a younger Biden who got himself into multiple embarrassing gaffes because he was prickly, sensitive about his dignity, and quick to anger. The older Biden is more comfortable in his skin.
It's no good sighing over the fact that a 70-year-old Biden would be so much better than this Biden. Take it from someone who is 66: Accept life as it is. If Biden had bowed out of the 2024 race, we can all fantasize about the ideal candidates who could have taken his place — Gretchen Whitmer, Josh Shapiro or Amy Klobuchar — but what are the chances the Democratic Party would deny the nomination to the sitting vice president? And who thinks Kamala Harris would be a stronger general election candidate than Biden?
Aging is a challenge. I constantly buy broccoli forgetting that I had some in the back of the refrigerator. I can't make out what people are saying when there's a lot of background noise. But I don't fret about small slights, rage at drivers who cut me off in traffic, or nurse grudges. I take more joy in nature and the simple pleasures.
Joe Biden is better at 80 than he was at 50. He is very likely to serve another term just fine. And there is not a particle of doubt that in a Biden/Trump rematch, the fate of the republic rests on the old(er) guy winning.
Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the Beg to Differ podcast. Her new book, Hard Right: The GOP's Drift Toward Extremism, is available now.
Reprinted with permission from Creators.