Should Old Age Determine Who We Vote For? The Case of Joseph Robinette Biden Jr.

By: - March 4, 2024

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An old woman is sitting at a bar when an older man enters, shuffles across the floor, and sits down beside her. “So,” he says, “Do I come here often?”

When I read that joke online, my first thought was of 81-year-old Joe Biden. Those words might have stumbled right out of his mouth, and his shuffle, that careful contact of shoe leather with solid ground, along with stiff movements and a hunched posture, are further signs of dementia.

Whatever we may think of their politics, leaders like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, President Javier Milei of Argentina, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni of Italy, and President Emmanuel Macron of France are all young enough to be Joe Biden’s children. China’s Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, is a mere 70-years-old compared to Biden’s four score and one, while Russian President Vladimir Putin is a decade younger than our man in the White House. In his recent interview with Tucker Carlson, Putin may have twisted the truth again and again, but at least he was coherent when he did so.

During the last three years, several of my friends have said of the president, “He’s too old. I just feel sorry for him.” As for me, I reserve my pity for our country. Whether we know it or not, our president has become a subject for mockery around the globe. Search online for “Joe Biden laughingstock of the world,” and you’ll find all the confirmation you need that this is the case.

Yet here we must make a careful distinction. When she learned that I was writing about this subject, a hospice nurse I know told me, “Make sure you say that it’s an issue of mentation and not of age.” From her I learned that mentation is a medical term referring to one’s capability for thinking.

The hospice nurse is absolutely right. It is not the number of years but level of mentation that determines the capabilities of the old. Benjamin Franklin, who died at age 84, was in his 80s when he played an important part in creating our Constitution. John Adams passed away at 90 and was in reasonably good mental and physical health until the very end of his life. Queen Elizabeth II was functional and working until days before her death at 96. Whatever we may think of his personality and politics, 77-year-old Donald Trump strikes most of us as having maintained his mental acuity and physical stamina.

To determine the mentation of Joe Biden and whether he is fit to hold office, some people have called for cognition tests. This idea strikes me as unnecessary and perhaps dangerous in determining the qualifications of older people for public office. Had the corporate press done its work in the 2020 campaign, asking, for instance, why Biden held so few public rallies and instead spent most of his time at home, we might have received some indication of his mental fitness for the highest office in the land. If Biden ends up debating Donald Trump during the 2024 campaign, then the public will have the opportunity to see the man in action and draw their own conclusions as to his fitness for office. If the Biden campaign refuses such a contest, then the public should rightly conclude that President Biden is unqualified for his office.

The danger in setting such a precedent for testing mental faculties comes because some will then insist on mental health checks and tests in other scenarios. Suppose a presidential candidate explodes at a reporter’s question and storms out of the room? Will opponents then demand that he undergo anger management therapy? What of the candidate who becomes emotional during a speech and sheds a tear or two? That reportedly happened to Democratic presidential candidate Edmund Muskie in 1972, and his campaign instantly fell apart. Today we’d likely hear a clamor of voices advising that the president undergo some variety of therapy.

If we consider the presidents of the last 48 years, we have three—Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden—who were older than 65 when assuming office. The others—Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barak Obama—were younger. Some people I know would rate Reagan and Trump as the two greatest of these presidents, while others would cast their votes for Obama and perhaps Clinton. Age is rarely cited as a factor in these evaluations.

In short, to determine a candidate’s qualification for the presidency based on age alone is misguided.

That said, however, the hour has come for some of our seniors to pass the torch of politics to a new generation. It’s time for politicians like Nancy Pelosi, age 83, and Mitch McConnell, 82, to pack their bags, dodder down the steps of the Capitol, and head for home. It’s past time for Joe Biden to surrender the keys to the White House and return to Rehoboth Beach or one of the other vacation spots where he already spends so much of his time.

Image credit: Public domain

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