Joe Biden’s age isn’t the issue: It’s his health

The job ages younger men. Those who care about Biden should begin to act in his best interests. Someone close to him needs to tell him to step aside. Charles de Gaulle said: “Graveyards are full of indispensable men.” Photo Credit: AFP/Mandel Ngan via Getty Images.

In 1944, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, having already bucked tradition and run for a third term, looked at seeking a fourth. At 62 years old, he did not seem too old or infirm, but as we later learned, he was dying. Age did not dictate his qualification for office as much as his health. We found out he had a terminal case of congestive heart failure. But as Paul Atkinson reported in The Hill on Dec. 29, 2023: “When President Franklin D. Roosevelt turned 62 on Jan. 30, 1944, the New York Times reported that Vice Admiral Ross T. McIntire, the president’s physician, believed ‘the chief executive was in better health than at any time since he entered the White House.’ In an April 4 update, the doctor told reporters: ‘the greatest criticism we can have is the fact we haven’t been able to provide him with enough exercise and sunshine.’” 

Roosevelt’s age did not make him unfit for office his health did. Regardless, he measured himself as indispensable. Neither the presidency nor the nation could continue without him. Unlike the American Cincinnatus, George Washington, Roosevelt believed he had to be president. Washington had left after two terms, and the precedent held for a century and a half until Roosevelt trampled over it. His terminal condition be damned, he left the nation in the hands of Harry S. Truman. Fortunately, Truman, who learned about America’s atomic capability after ascending the presidency, performed the job admirably. Is Biden’s reluctance to step down his fear that his vice president can’t do the job? That she could not defeat Donald Trump? He better do a job review. 

In recent elections, the issue of age has arisen for Senator John McCain in 2008 (73 years old), Senator Bob Dole in 1996 (73 years old), and President Ronald Reagan in 1984 (73 years old). Reagan did earn a second term and served until leaving office at 77. Joe Biden will turn 82 in November and wants another term. 

If we based our assessment on age alone, the cries of unfairness would be understandable. But the issue raised concerns Biden’s health, an ongoing debate in presidential circles since the office’s inception. In recent times, we know that President John F. Kennedy took a cocktail of medications and wore a back brace that held him upright. The stiffness of the brace probably explains why Oswald’s third shot blew his brain out since he did not slump over after the first shots hit him. If Americans knew about Kennedy’s drug dependence, would he have been elected? 

Despite Americans knowing presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Lyndon B. Johnson had significant heart issues (that eventually killed both), they voted for them. Ronald Reagan developed Alzheimer’s. Some have suggested he had symptoms in his second term. But Reagan walked better and gave a better speech at the 1992 Republican Convention than Biden does today, over three years removed from office.  Examples from today’s current culture also counter the age issue. Judge Judy at 81 bears no resemblance to Joe Biden’s 81. Bernie Sanders, 82, outperforms the younger Biden. The concern does not rest on Biden’s numerical age. The unease arises from his behaviour, especially in public.  

In a recent report about Biden’s use of classified materials, Special Prosecutor Robert Hur has come under withering attack in the left-wing media for suggesting Biden was an “elderly man with a poor memory.” Hur, describing Biden’s action as wilful, decided not to prosecute the president because he did not think he could secure a conviction before a jury. Based on Biden’s presentation as a sympathetic figure struggling to recall details, Hur chose to write an honest report instead of proceeding with an indictment. 

Hur had to ask Biden several times when he started to be Vice President or stopped being Vice President. Biden repeatedly claimed that his son Beau died in Iraq and could not remember the year of his death (2015). At a subsequent press conference, he confused the President of Mexico with the leader of Egypt. Throughout the last couple of weeks, he has claimed to have had conversations with Francois Mitterand of France (died in 1997) and Helmet Kohl of Germany (died in 2017). 

If Biden were an airline pilot, a nuclear power plant engineer, or a truck driver, he would be relieved of his duties. He could be a Wal-Mart greeter, but he is no longer compis mentis. Those stories that stick the most are the ones that reconfirm what everyone already believes to be true. Biden’s staff can protest and howl about what Robert Hur wrote in his report. It does not change the image of the President’s wonky gait, slurred speech, confusion on stage, or mixing up the living with the dead. 

The time has come for those close to Biden to speak on his behalf, not his defence. Arguing that he had trouble answering questions because he was in the middle of the Oct. 7 crisis with Hamas and Israel makes rather than breaks the case. The job demands the president be able to move from crisis to crisis. Trying to defend his catastrophic press conference because it was held late at night (8pm) also reeks of palliation. What happened to Hilary Clinton’s 3am phone call ad? If Biden can’t do the job after 8pm, then the worries are legitimate. 

The job ages younger men. Those who care about Biden should begin to act in his best interests. Someone close to him needs to tell him to step aside. Charles de Gaulle said: “Graveyards are full of indispensable men.” As many of us have had to tell aging relatives to hand over the keys, family and friends of Biden would do well to help him make room for a new generation of leaders. The president is famously stubborn. The lack of humility has gotten him into trouble before. The deep waters before him will not only overwhelm him, but they could also create heavy burdens for the nation he loves.


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