Anyone who goes grocery shopping knows to look for the “sell by” date on certain perishables. Some products are fine several days after, but you don’t want to push your luck. Visible decay is a signal that immediate disposal may be the best option.
If Joe Biden were a banana, he’d be showing brown flecks. He was stretching his functional shelf life when he got elected president. At 77, he conducted a low-octane campaign that fit with the COVID pandemic, conserved his energy and minimized the chances of verbal pratfalls. His strategy worked, and so far, he has not proved inadequate to the demands of his job.
But he was born in 1942 — a year closer in time to the Civil War than to the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope. He would be 82 on Inauguration Day and 86 by the end of his second term. Electing even a 77-year-old to the presidency would have been an unacceptably risky choice, in my book, except for the fact that his opponent was not only 74 but spectacularly unfit for any office.
In some quarters, Biden is regarded as a feeble, drooling specimen of senile dementia — which merely proves the power of incessant right-wing propaganda over the willfully gullible. His rare press conferences reveal someone less facile than his younger self but also someone with perfectly adequate cognitive faculties.
Advanced age, however, carries consequences that no one escapes. Mental decline can be slow and subtle or sudden and severe. But the risk grows with time. And the difficulty of removing a president who suffers impairment makes it advisable to avoid octogenarians.
That’s why Biden would be doing us a favor to forgo a reelection bid and let other Democrats compete to replace him at the top of the ticket. He has no obvious heir, which makes it important that he decide sooner rather than later. An early announcement would make it easier for candidates to line up donors and staff and give voters ample time to get to know them.
This may sound like a way to smooth Trump’s path back to the White House. But Biden’s approval rating has been stuck below 50% for nearly a year, and the latest New York Times/Siena College poll pegged it at a meager 33%. Still, Americans would prefer him to the Megalomaniac of Mar-a-Lago by 44% to 41%. If someone as unpopular as Biden has more appeal than Trump, how much better could a fresh Democratic nominee do?
Nearly half of Republicans say they would prefer someone other than Trump, who lost the popular vote not once but twice. Since then, of course, he has undoubtedly been damaged by the revelations of the Jan. 6 committee, and he stands a realistic chance of being indicted in the next two years. He’s a high-risk choice in more ways than one.
The lesson of recent elections is that the public tends to prefer presidents who differ markedly from their predecessors. The professorial Barack Obama replaced the folksy George W. Bush. A loudmouthed bomb-thrower replaced the no-drama Obama. The earnest, empathetic Biden replaced someone who knew nothing of either quality.
After two elderly presidents in a row, with high federal office increasingly a geriatric monopoly, comparative youth should be an asset in 2024. Democrats may not want to contemplate the image of an elderly Biden on a debate stage against Ron DeSantis, who is 43, or Nikki Haley, 50.
Democrats have no shortage of plausible contenders. Among them: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, California Gov. Gavin Newsom and North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper.
Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts may still harbor White House ambitions, but at age 80 and 73, they represent a cohort that should be stepping back, not up. Kamala Harris has the advantage of the vice presidency, which she has done her best to squander.
Should Stacey Abrams win the governor’s race in Georgia, she will have instant credibility. Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Cory Booker of New Jersey may have learned how to win in their maiden 2020 presidential bids.
Biden performed the invaluable historic service of evicting the most dangerous person ever to occupy the White House. He could do another one by passing the torch to a new generation.