Biden’s Age Is Still a Liability  

Biden’s Age Is Still a Liability  

A successful State of the Union isn’t going to bury the age issue for the oldest-ever president.

President Joe Biden speaks during an event hosted by the Democratic National Party at the Howard Theatre on November 10, 2022 in Washington, D.C. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

Joe Biden is back! Ever since the State of the Union, there has been a concerted effort to put the age issue to bed instead of the president. This carried over into the coverage of former special counsel Robert Hur’s congressional testimony.

The New York Times checked the Hur interview transcript and concluded that Biden “appeared clearheaded most of the time.” The Washington Post described the document as a “nuanced portrait” in which Biden “doesn’t come across as being as absent-minded as Hur has made him out to be.”

It may be that the most extreme Republican caricatures of an addled Biden don’t correspond to reality, setting a low bar for competence the president can easily clear. It is certainly the case that the Hur report, followed soon afterward by a slew of discouraging poll numbers, was the proximate cause of the latest round of liberal pundit panic about Biden’s general-election chances.

Voters didn’t need to read a description of Biden as  “an elderly man with a poor memory” to worry about his age. Nor do they necessarily need to hear Republican messaging on the subject, since this is a widely held anxiety among younger Democrats and Biden 2020 supporters. 

That’s why the State of the Union address was never likely to resolve the issue either. Yes, Biden did well enough delivered a prepared speech for an hour and displayed more than enough energy to calm the speculation he will be replaced as the Democratic nominee at the convention later this year. Certainly, if the speech had gone poorly, it would have extended a negative news cycle for Biden and created further political problems.

But Biden has never flubbed a State of the Union before. He has generally done well on camera in big moments, with the arguable exception of his impromptu press availability in response to Hur’s report. Biden’s biggest hiccups have come up at routine events largely watched by professional political journalists, though some have gone viral on social media or cable news afterward. 

The fact that Biden has usually been acceptable in the brightest spotlight and voters still wonder whether he is up to the job ought to worry Democrats. It’s also true that, however well he did last week, the main ad-lib from the speech—the exchange with Marjorie Taylor Greene over Laken Riley and the “illegal”—kicked off days of controversy.

Biden revealed once again he is out of step with the sensibilities of younger progressives. He responded by reinforcing the view of everyone else that he is beholden to these activists at the expense of secure borders or even basic common sense. And it is a problem he is going to have still more difficulty navigating as the Israel–Hamas war divides the Democratic base.

Most important is the context in which Hur mentioned Biden’s memory. The special counsel was never going to be able to file charges over mishandled classified documents while Biden is in office, per Justice Department guidelines. Any indictments would have to come when Biden was a former president, perhaps as old as 86. Under those circumstances, Biden’s forgetfulness was one of several traits that would make it hard to prove intent and win a criminal conviction.

That may be what many voters also see. They observe Biden slowing down, fumbling his words, worsening tics that were present in his style and delivery even when he was a young man. It is probably not a crisis now, they may reason. But it is something likely to only get worse rather than better. And Biden is asking for a second term.

Let’s compare Biden for a moment to Ronald Reagan. During his second term, Reagan was beset with rumors about his failing memory. He occasionally slipped in public, such as when he referred to his Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Samuel Pierce as “mayor.” It became a larger issue of public concern during the Iran–Contra affair.

There is little doubt that Reagan was a better orator circa 1988 than Biden is now. A case could be made that Reagan’s address to the 1992 Republican National Convention or his final public speech in Washington, D.C. just months before his Alzheimer’s diagnosis were finer performances than Biden’s State of the Union.

Reagan, a president I admire, had his memory troubles confirmed by doctors in 1994. He left office shortly before turning 78, the age at which Biden entered—and Donald Trump would reenter—the White House.

What might have happened if Reagan had been constitutionally eligible to run for a third term, which, based on the performance of an inferior Republican nominee in 1988, he would have surely won?

We may be about to find out.

The post Biden’s Age Is Still a Liability   appeared first on The American Conservative.

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