'OH, NO!' LET'S NOT WAKE UP NOV. 6, 2024 SAYING: 'WE DITCHED JOE BIDEN AS BEING TOO OLD'
JOE BIDEN biking on vacation Aug. 3 in Delaware. CREDIT: Chuck Snyder, Delaware News Journal
“OH, NO!” This is what I don’t want to be saying on Nov. 6, 2024, the morning after. “What a fool I was.” Realizing that we had a winning candidate, but that we threw him overboard. His name was Joe Biden. We convinced ourselves that he was “too old” to be president, and so we abandoned him. I admit it. I was one of millions of Americans, who, all through the spring, summer and fall of 2023, were talking ourselves out of putting Joe Biden – arguably the best president of our lifetime - back in the White House. We wanted someone else. There were lots of someone-elses, all younger. My favorite was Gretchen Whitmer, the 52-year-old governor of Michigan. She knew how to run a big, complicated state. She was the object of a kidnap plot, so she knew about the Dark Side. And it was way time to elect a woman president, especially when medical care was being curtailed for women. Experienced, smart, qualified, gifted. For example, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, 50, who got that Route 95 bridge fixed and fast. Gavin Newsom, 56, the feisty, combative Democrat who ran a liberal state with an economy bigger than many countries. And those were just a few of the many attractive Democrats who were outright invisible to the average American voter. Which is what made it so obvious that Whitmer, or someone just like her, was going to lose the most important election in American history, thereby plunging the United States into madness. Why didn’t I see that? How could I, and lots of other Democrats and friendly Independents, be so stupid not to see that Joe Biden was the only man or woman who could possibly beat Donald Trump? I’ll tell you why I spent so much time arguing that we needed someone new, someone younger: I was – and remain – an old fool.
I MEAN THAT LITERALLY. I’m just five months older than Joe Biden. He’s a mere 80 years old today and will stay that way for the rest of the fall, catching up to me on Nov. 20, when he finally turns 81. Anyway, because I know a thing or two about Absolute Old Age, I’ve been arguing that when humans reach our 80s, we have crossed into treacherous territory. Terrible things happen to some people, and eventually, to everyone. Nothing gets better. We get sick. My wife has driven me to our local emergency room too often this year (kidney stones). Sometimes in our 80s, chronic illnesses start to catch up with us (I’m diabetic, who, in clinical terms, is “well controlled,” but you never know when it’s going to cripple or blind). My brain, never a stellar performer, doesn’t work as well as I would like. It takes me a minute or two – and sometimes months – to remember the word or the name I want to say. I don’t think I’m demented yet – but really, you shouldn't take my word for that, for obvious reasons. I nap a lot. I turn up the heat in the house when it’s not winter. On any sidewalk, on any day, I will be the slowest pedestrian, and that includes small people clinging to their fathers’ hands, folks with canes or who are pushing baby carriages. Were it not for Social Security, pensions and some savings, my wife and I would be on the street, or worse, banging on the doors of our adult children and their offspring. “Mom! Baba and Deda are here, and they have suitcases.” I no longer work in the career that gave me so much joy and my life such meaning, as a reporter. I simply cannot do such stressful, demanding work; can't do it to pay the taxes on the house, put gas in the car, not to save my life. Our friends are dying, and, as it turns out, they're in their 80s. In some months, it has seemed like the only professional-grade writing I do is for my friends' obituaries. It should be said that my wife (who, like Joe, will reach the 81-mark in November) and I are the lucky ones. We’ve survived the scary sounding illnesses like cancer and cardiac defects, even avoided Covid, so that, at the moment, life is pretty much as it has been for big parts of two centuries. But well off as we are today, my experience with Absolute Old Age is not an argument about qualifying for any paid job, to say nothing of providing resume material for something as demanding as commander-in-chief, leader of the free world, chief economist, climate change crusader, champion of civil rights and national problem solver. We are all different. Joe Biden seems to be a more active and competent 80-year-old than I was. On the other hand, he has someone to cut the grass, vacuum the house and change the kitty litter. Fact is, I'm an expert only on an older me, not Joe Biden.
TRUMP in a golf cart, July 28, 2022 in New Jersey. Biden on his bike in 2023. CREDITS: Salon; Delaware News Journal
BIDDEN IS THE ONLY DEMOCRAT with a track record (spectacular) and a recognizable first and last name who has stood up to Trump, and who can do so again. In the past, I’ve argued there is still time for an alternate candidate to get publicized, recognized and endorsed by most voters. That’s just wrong. Lot’s of Americans don’t pay close attention to elections and politics. That’s not a good thing; but it’s reality. Jared Polis; J.B. Pritzker. Do you recognize their names? Anyone? Let’s praise Joe Biden. He, in his own words, rescued “the soul of America.” He returned the nation to normal. He is a decent man – as decent as possible for someone with that amount of power. Instead of running him down as an Old Man, let’s celebrate the fact that he regularly rides a bicycle, not a golf cart. Maybe, exiting Air Force One, he should ride his bike down the ramp, finishing up with a couple of wheelies on the tarmac. Mainly, let’s show some enthusiasm for all the stuff he can do and will do in the future. And let’s not focus on the nonsense that “when he leaves office, he’ll be 86.” What counts most of all is what he does in the next 15 months. The Democratic nominee will be just 81 for the majority of the campaign. As a happy warrior-style candidate, he’ll do both jobs – president and presidential candidate – better than anyone else. Let’s think of ourselves as looking back in 2024 on the day after the Nov. 5 election. Will we look back in sorrow and shame? Or will we look back in joy, having put a democrat – not an autocrat – back in the White House?
THOSE OF US in coastal New England this week have been paying attention to the progress of Hurricane Lee, watching the National Weather Service’s graphic representation of the possible course of the storm, the "Forecast Cone.” The Cone is a blob-like caricature, with an ever-expanding head, since the farther away storms are in time, the more places that notoriously erratic hurricanes might end up. The weather service sometimes refers to this graphic as the “Cone of Uncertainty,” which makes sense, since it’s a composite of weather experts’ best guesstimates of where a storm could strike. As I thought about it, “The Cone of Uncertainty” is an apt phrase for not only the danger of a catastrophic weather event, but the devastating possibility that Donald J. Trump once again could be president of the United States. The difference is that it’s possible to recover from and even prevent some effects of devastating hurricanes, horrific wildfires and terrible floods. But once a country becomes a dictatorship – especially in a technological age – it’s unlikely we can return to a democratic normal. Authoritarian countries do not solve problems, they make them worse. A Trump regime will not confront any of the big problems like climate change, job-destroying possibilities created by artificial intelligence, racial inequality, uneven health care, injustice, homelessness and all the other plagues of contemporary life. Which makes the Cone of Uncertainty such an appropriate symbol of our unique era, because political catastrophe is just around the corner, with time itself the enemy as the 2024 election is almost upon us. The weather service’s Cone of Uncertainty is based on a variety of computer models that take into account known atmospheric events, and then analyzes the what-ifs and where-nexts. The same goes for our political models, all of which tell us there are seemingly endless possibilities, any one of which, or in various combinations, could be our ruin.
LET US COUNT some of the realities of the political Cone of Uncertainty:
Joe Biden’s age. He’s 80. Lots of people don’t make it that far, but for those who do, it’s a dangerous decade in which many things can and will go wrong: strokes, dementia, bad colds, Covid, broken bones and, at any moment, death itself.
Joe Biden’s hubris. He appears to think he’s not only the best person to take on Donald Trump, but the only one. In this, Biden acts like the deranged Trump sounded in 2016, when he proclaimed that “I alone can fix” a supposedly a broken America. Biden has been a successful and accomplished president. But now he pretends that human bodies – at least his – do not wear out and that death is but a remote possibility.
Republican madness. Whether it’s fear, love or insanity, the Republican Party is Trump’s to do with, whatever and whenever he wishes. MAGA-tisim may not have hypnotized a majority of voters, but it’s produced a significant and reliable core of support for Trump.
America divided. It doesn’t seem possible, given the legion of Trump’s failures as president and his multi-pronged, seditious attempt to stay in power, that the nation seems evenly divided when comparing Trump and Biden. A RealClearPolitics matchup shows Biden with 44.5 percent and Trump 44.3 of an imagined 2024 vote. If you’re unwilling to do the math, RealClearPolitics has done it for you, putting Biden’s margin at 0.2 points.
Young voters. Young people may be turning away from the Democratic Party, and surely, they have no sympathy from Biden’s Old Man image.
No-labels party. The proposal to form a third party to give voters a “choice” from a Biden-Trump rematch would, in fact, peel off votes from Biden, not Trump, and would land The Defendant back in the White House.
Inflation. Sure, it’s slowing down, and maybe because of the Federal Reserve’s sledgehammer “policies,” which moderate price increases by making homes and other essentials too costly and throwing some Americans out of work. But rents still are too high, grocery bills out of whack, cars overpriced and at any moment, for any reason, those giant numbers that gas stations post on their price billboards could double or triple, the practical message being: “Biden’s Fault.”
Flawed Constitution. We grew up thinking the Constitution assured a continuing and stable democracy. But Trump has demonstrated its many weaknesses, including the provision for an Electoral College counting of the votes, which means that Democrats can win the most overall votes but lose the election - just ask Hillary Clinton and Al Gore.
Stupid ideas. Sometimes they are the brainchildren of smart people. Case in point, Laurence Tribe, a liberal academic, and Michael Luttig, a conservative former federal judge, argue that Trump should be barred automatically from running because of a clause in the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, which says officials who violate their oaths of office by seditious activities can’t seek election. Granted you and I believe Trump tried to overthrow the government. But it hasn’t been proven in either a court or an impeachment trial. Trump supporters and lots of other people rightfully would go bonkers if that kind of a stunt succeeded.
THESE ARE ONLY SOME of the elements that make up our political Cone of Uncertainty. What is for sure is that they are all real and all dangerous and could mean the end of democracy in America. But here’s the thing about the Cone of Uncertainty: the storm IS coming; and there IS time to prepare for and maybe even head it off. Joe Biden does not have to run again. There are talented, competent Democrats who already are or could become national leaders, like Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Boston Mayor Michelle Wu. MAGA voters are not a majority of voters. People voting in large enough numbers can overcome the Electoral College’s idiotic tally. Young people can come to their senses. Stupid ideas can be chucked into the waste baskets. Democracy can be energized if enough people care. The Cone of Uncertainty works both ways.
I'VE BEEN a reporter and writer for 58 years, long enough to have learned that journalists don't know very much, although I've met some smart ones. Mainly, what reporters know comes from asking other people questions and fretting about the answers. This blog is a successor to one inspired by our dog, Phoebe, who was smart, sweet and the antithesis of Donald Trump. She died Feb. 3, and I don't see getting over that very soon. Occasionally, I may try to reach her via cell phone.