One of the singular facts that almost everyone knows about former Vice President Joe Biden is that he is really old, 77 years of age. He would be 78 when he would be sworn into office in a little less than a year if he were to somehow be elected president. Indeed, he would be in his 80s when and if he were to finish his first term.
According to the Washington Examiner, Biden was ruminating about his venerable age at a campaign event in Clinton, Iowa. The question was about a potential vice-presidential running mate. He mentioned that he knew about eight women and about four people of color who were capable of becoming president.
Why is the ability to become president so important? Biden explained, “But you never know. You never know what’s going on. And I’m sure what would happen is I have — some people looking would say, ‘Is the person Biden picked capable of, God forbid something happened to Biden, that they would be able to take over immediately?”
Death comes for us all, even for sitting presidents from time to time. Four presidents, Garfield, Abraham Lincoln, McKinley, and John F. Kennedy were assassinated. William Henry Harrison died of pneumonia a month after he was inaugurated. Zachary Taylor succumbed to acute gastroenteritis. Warren Harding had a fatal heart attack. Franklin Roosevelt did not serve out his fourth term because of a cerebral hemorrhage.
The choice of a vice president has been without almost speaking the first and most important decision that a presidential candidate makes after having been nominated. Usually, a presidential candidate chooses someone who compliments his or her strengths and makes up for some weaknesses.
The running mate’s primary job is to enhance the person at the top of the ticket’s chances of being elected. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. In 1988, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis chose Texas Senator Lloyd Bentsen to run with him, achieving a kind of regional and ideological balance. In 2008, John McCain chose then Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, thus adding some much-needed conservative balance, political excitement, and a play to the women’s vote. Neither gambit worked.
Biden thought that he was being reassuring about how aware he is about the possibility of his death in office and therefore the importance of having a competent running mate, ready to step into the top job at a moment’s notice. However, more than one pundit has raised an eyebrow about how Biden drew attention to the one thing that worries people who might vote for him, his advanced years.
A casual google search of media stories reveals a host of worrying musings about Biden’s advanced age. Politico noted that only three presidents. Eisenhower, Reagan, and, of course, Trump served while in their 70s. No one has ever been as old as Biden is now and has started a term as president of the United States.
Also, people are not so much bothered by the idea of Biden dying in office – the United States has been there many times before and has survived. The real concern, as Politico notes, is the fear that Biden is too old for the job from the very start.
“It’s an issue because of things Biden has said and done—suggesting, for instance, he thought he was in Vermont when he actually was in New Hampshire, dropping that wince-worthy phrase that his “time is up” in the first debate and oddly invoking a record player in the last debate. His lifelong habit of flubs, gaffes and often garbled speaking now can seem less like “Joe being Joe” and more like an ominous indicator of a creeping loss of mental acuity.”
Biden has more than once tried to distract from the concerns about his mental health by boasting about his physical stamina. He once challenged a heckler to a pushup contest. More than once he implied that he might beat up President Trump for the latter’s alleged boorish behavior.
Of course, Biden does have another ready-made answer to questions about his age. He has mentioned regularly that he is younger than Bernie Sanders, the aging socialist who is threatening Biden’s position as the front runner. And, as old and as given to senior moments as Biden is, he has never offered something quite as crazy as the Green New Deal or Medicare for All. A powerful argument, that.