What Makes Age An Asset For Joe Biden And Me -- And The Nation
I don’t go down the stairs the way I used to. When I was a cadet at West Point and lived on the fourth floor of the barracks, I used to balance myself by skimming my hand lightly along the banister while pointing the toes of my leather-soled lace-up shoes and skiing down the stairs, never touching a stair tread with my heels until I reached the landing, then continuing my sole-skiing down the next set of stairs until I got to the ground floor. I could go down four flights in a matter of seconds.
Today, after I woke up from the nap I take every afternoon, I sort of stumbled with a death grip on the banister from one step to another, clunking down the stairs from the second floor in our house, landing my heels hard enough on each stair to shake the one above and below it. If I moved a little faster, it would sound like I was falling.
You should see me when I walk our dog Ruby three blocks up the street to Walgreens every morning to get the paper. I know exactly what I look like. I look like the old Italian-American men I used to see in the South Village when I walked home from the Voice office every day. All of them – every single one – leaned forward a little with their heads turned up so they could see ahead of them, as if they were walking into a snowstorm, and their feet slapped the sidewalk, each step catching them as if from falling forward. I remember walking in New York City as a young man. Hell, I remember walking through the city when I was 60. I could make it from Houston Street to Chinatown in a few minutes. When I was walking with another person or in a small group, I would have to consciously slow down so I didn’t get ahead of them.
Well, you’re older, you might say. What do you expect? I’ll tell you what I expect. I expect people not to make fun of me the way people make fun of Joe Biden, who is only five years older than I am, for the way he walks, as he did leaving the stage after making remarks to the press during his visit to Israel last week. I’m not talking about Fox News talking heads and Republican critics in Congress, who would point fingers at Biden for the way he spoons up his soup, if they dined with him.
I’m talking about you, fellow Democrats, who I see quoted daily in stories about Biden’s age. I hear it in emails from friends, and I see it in comments from my readers of this column. One reader the other day, commenting on Biden’s visit to Israel, said he was “way way too much of a stumble bum to deal with matters of truly earth-shaking importance.” The commenter then called him a “stupor hero,” and went on to remind us that “old and mentally fragile people are very gullible. That’s why romance scams are so successful in this demographic.”
To which my reply would be, at least Joe Biden is capable of romance, unlike a certain opposition candidate who when he was president made news if he even touched the hand of his spouse, and nearly every time he was seen holding her hand, he was steadying himself going down the stairs from Air Force One.
President Biden is 81, and I’m 76, by the way, so you could say that I’m prejudiced when it comes to what has become known as the “age issue.” Biden’s age, in comparison to that of his chief rival, shouldn’t be an issue at all. Biden is only four years older than Donald Trump, and as we have seen repeatedly, Trump has issues when it comes to walking across a stage, going down stairs, or famously at a West Point graduation a few years ago, negotiating a gently-sloping non-skid ramp down from a platform after handing out diplomas to a few hundred graduating cadets. Not to mention his habit of constantly repeating himself and occasionally slurring his words.
But enough of Trump’s manifest frailties. I’m not here to talk about age as a deficit. I’m here to talk about growing older as a benefit of enormous consequence. In the case of Joe Biden, I think of his age as an investment of years of experience, knowledge, and judgement. Consider the steady hand and years of experience at international relations with which Biden has handled Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, and now the war of terror by Hamas against Israel. Compare it to the way at age 49 he handled the hearings for the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Leaving aside what we have learned about Thomas since that time, do you think at age 81 Biden would handle Thomas’ lies and the screeching from Republicans the same way?
Let me tell you something about being 76 years old. There is no way on earth that I could write the column I’m writing today at 49 years old, even given the fact that when I was that age, I had been a writer for 28 years. I don’t pretend to know the reason that living for 27 more years on this earth gives you certain powers and abilities while taking away others, but it does. Part of it is what you have experienced in the interim – the way you’ve lived your life, or failed at it; the things you’ve seen; the people you’ve met; the joys you have shared and the tragedies you have endured.
The things you go through in your life add up, and let me tell you this: They make you stronger, not weaker, even as you lose a step walking the dog or thinking of a word in a sentence. From what I have seen of Biden as president, he hasn’t lost a single step in either his judgement or empathy, the two elements of one’s life that become stronger with age and are most important if you have a job like his.
I couldn’t do the job he does as president, but I can do the job that I have better than at any time in the 56 years I’ve been doing it, and way down in my creaky bones, I know the same is true of him.
Go get ‘em, Joe. Slap your feet and lean forward when you walk; grip that handrail coming down the steps from Air Force One. And hold onto the hand of your wife Jill with every scintilla of love that’s between you. Aches and pains may come with being 81 years old, but love and empathy make you stronger. I wouldn’t want to go up against you trying to manage a war or a campaign for president. I haven’t got enough years under my belt yet, but I’m catching up to you as fast as life will let me.
Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.
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