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Democrats Face the Age-old, Old-age Dilemma with Biden

The Hill

Most of us are familiar with the age-old, old-age dilemma: An elderly family member or close friend refuses to concede he or she neither can nor should continue doing certain tasks. It’s old-age denialism, and President Joe Biden is the most public example.  

Democrats know it. Voters know it. The only person who doesn’t know it—or won’t admit it—is the president.

At least the media are beginning to discuss a problem that Biden refuses to. Politico recently highlighted “voters’ profound misgivings about his [Biden’s] age and fitness to serve another full term.” 

For example, in a September CNN poll, 73 percent—including 56 percent of Democrats—said they were concerned about Biden’s current level of physical and mental competence. A different poll found that 77 percent of those surveyed—including 69 percent of Democrats—think Biden is too old for a second term. Those findings are similar to a recent Wall Street Journal poll claiming that 73 percent of voters—and two-thirds of Democrats—think the president is too old for a second term. 

Given those huge percentages, you might think Biden would try to address the age issue head on. But you’d be wrong. Politico adds, “Yet what’s striking, and to his allies increasingly unnerving, is Biden’s unwillingness even to try to fully address questions about his capacity to run for reelection next year, when he’ll turn 82.”

But it’s really not that “striking.” It’s fairly common for seniors to refuse to acknowledge their age-related decline, arguing they are actually in great health.  

Time magazine’s Jeffrey Kluger recently looked at “Why Americans are uniquely afraid to grow old.” He points out, “There is an entire branch of psychology built around the geriatric mind, dealing not just with such clinical conditions as dementia, but also the simple business of fear of—and resistance to—aging.”  

He quotes Sheldon Solomon, professor of psychology at Skidmore College, who says, “We are perhaps the most death-denying generation in human history, having grown up in surreal conditions of modernity.”  

There are lots of websites set up to help people deal with family members and friends who are in age denial. Those organizations identify some of the reasons for denial: pride, embarrassment, fear and depression. And, of course, for someone who holds a lot of power, as the president does, it may also be a reluctance to give up that power.  

Those websites usually provide a list of suggested steps or actions for family members to take when dealing with a senior who is in age denial. But what advice is there for Democrats (Biden’s political family) who are increasingly concerned that the president’s age denialism may cost them the 2024 election? How can his political family members stage an intervention?   

Democrats might try the “go out on top” argument. Biden could claim Bidenomics has energized the economy and created jobs, that he has taken steps toward reducing inflation and helped America regain the respect of other countries. Arguably, none of that’s true, but going out on top is more about establishing a narrative than telling the truth. 

Alternatively, Democrats might propose the “get out while the getting’s good” option. They could stress how many second terms actually diminish a president’s first-term accomplishments—think Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Lyndon Baines Johnson. Given the global turmoil and the potential for a U.S. recession next year or soon after, 2024 and 2025 may be economic or political downer years that mar the legacy of whoever is in the White House.  

Whatever their approach, Democratic Party leaders need to have a presidential intervention. Like most seniors in age denialism, Biden would likely reject any suggestion that he isn’t up to the job. But while Biden may be in denial, voters aren’t.