Aging has been on my mind lately. That’s not surprising given that my parents are in their 90s. But the real jolt came at a Bonnie Raitt-Lucinda Williams concert this month.
While Raitt at 72 met the expectations I had built up over 45 years of fandom at a distance, I gasped when an escort guided Williams to a mic stand onstage. She clutched it as she sang, motionless and guitar-less, for the entire set. I learned from a quick phone search that she is 69 and had a stroke in 2020.
That was a blinding reality flash about aging and fragility – a moment that makes you think about what's ahead and, whether you're a musician or a writer or a politician, how you can never know.
Biden's popularity has declined
I understand why President Joe Biden keeps saying he plans to run again for the most powerful job in the world, and why preparations reportedly are under way. But we can't ignore that he's 79 and unpopular. It sounds rude to say so, but these are well-known facts.
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Baby boomers like me once were resented for blocking job advancement of younger people. But many in my generation – ages 58 to 76 – are still waiting to achieve their potential. Looking at you, Prince Charles, age 73, and any politically ambitious boomer edged out by Joe "silent generation" Biden and those octogenarian congressional leaders. By now, it’s not even just boomers waiting in line. Generation X and millennials also are chomping to get ahead.
This is more than a traffic jam. It’s a blockade. And it’s not healthy.
Why? Because the stakes are so high in 2024. There are so many election deniers, liars and manipulators at every level of the Republican Party, from former President Donald Trump on down, that it is essential to elect a Democratic president.
It's also essential because conservatives are working so hard to inject religious views into public policy. The new Texas Republican Party platform puts it all in one place: "Homosexuality is an abnormal lifestyle choice," Biden was "not legitimately elected," Texas should vote on seceding from the union, schools should teach that "life begins at fertilization," and on and on.
That platform was breaking news over the weekend, along with this: Biden fell off his bike.
Biden bike mishap is no big deal
Here I must point out that the president was biking in the first place, was unhurt, got up and proceeded to chat with a bunch of people; that President George W. Bush fell off his bike, too; and that I’ve never seen Trump, 76, riding a bike – nor can I imagine it.
Worse than Trump: How Biden bungled the job of leading America's economy
Still, and of course, conservatives pounced. Donald Trump Jr. declared the fall a “perfect metaphor for the current state of our country.” Others went the concern trolling route. “Joe is unwell. It’s painful to watch,” tweeted attorney Jenna Ellis, who promoted 2020 election lies for Trump and has now signed up to presumably do the same for Doug Mastriano, the GOP's gubernatorial nominee in Pennsylvania. Richard Grenell, a Trump-era intelligence director and ambassador to Germany, said the incident shows adversaries that Biden is in decline and “isn’t running the country.”
That is absurd. If you're not blinded by tribalism, it’s clear that Biden is sharp and running the show – that even as inflation packs a wallop, he is balancing competing existential imperatives in Ukraine while presiding over a booming job market and a return to normal life as COVID-19 vaccines and treatments ease pandemic fears.
He has named the first Black female justice to the Supreme Court. He has signed more bipartisan laws than you might think, as I wrote in March, affecting everything from postal delivery to women’s safety to broadband and roads. And more deals are in the works.
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There was also this recent exchange after Biden called AP interviewer Josh Boak a young man.
“I’m getting more gray hair every day, sir,” Boak said.
“Well, I tell you what, well at least you’re keeping it,” Biden replied. “I’d settle for orange if I had more hair.”
I think that’s a funny dig at Trump. More to the point, it’s situational humor, off the cuff and right in the moment. No cue card, teleprompter or stage whisper necessary.
Younger Democrats deserve a chance
All of that said, I’m with those who think Biden should not run again. Why would I say that, after praising his good work? Same reason I am hoping Pelosi, despite her many skills, steps aside: Numbers. Biden would be 82 during a 2024 campaign, and he’d be 86 at the end of a second term.
If he won.
I’m not convinced he could. Biden was the right person for a unique moment in 2020. His rationale for running – to reclaim “the soul of this nation” after 2017’s white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, and four years of Trump – has proved prescient time and again.
That’s true right up to the current hearings illuminating the hate and violence on display at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. “We have to remember who we are. This is America,” Biden said in that announcement video three years ago. He was a safe harbor for more than 81 million voters.
But Biden seems a lot younger in the 2019 video than he does now. As Mark Leibovich noted in The Atlantic, "There is nothing like the U.S. presidency to accelerate the aging process."
And the challenges have multiplied since Charlottesville and Biden's 2020 campaign: rising white racist extremism; rising hostility to LGBTQ Americans and to fair elections; rising intrusions into personal rights like abortion and family medical decisions; rising permissiveness on guns; rising edicts to teachers about what they can and can't say about race and gender. It’s conservatives’ way or the highway, led these days by governors and legislatures, but the next GOP president is almost certain to take the trends national.
It will take energy to make sure that doesn’t happen. It will take realism to determine the best standard-bearer. And it will take strength from Biden to allow that process to unfold.
His legacy, in many ways already secure, is still evolving. Freeing younger Democrats to run in 2024 would be a valuable gift to his party.
Jill Lawrence is a columnist for USA TODAY and author of "The Art of the Political Deal: How Congress Beat the Odds and Broke Through Gridlock." Follow her on Twitter: @JillDLawrence
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Joe Biden has been a good president. But he shouldn't run in 2024.