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Thursday, December 1, 2022

As a 76-year-old, let me say: Joe Biden is too old to run again | Robert Reich

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At 79 years old, Joe Biden is the oldest president in American history. Concerns about his age top the list of why Democratic voters want the party to seek an alternative before 2024.

I don’t think this is an expression of an “age” prejudice against those who have reached such destructive heights, but an understanding that people in their late seventies and eighties wither.

I speak with some authority. I am now spritely 76 – light years younger than our president. I feel fit, I swing dance and salsa, and can do 20 push-ups in a row. Yet I confess a certain loss of, shall we say, fizz.

Joe Biden could easily make it to 86 when he closes out his second term. After all, it is now considered a bit disappointing when someone dies before 85 years of age. Three out of ten and ten is the lifespan stated in the Bible. Modern technology and Big Pharma add at least a decade and a half to that. ‘After 80 it’s gravy,’ my father used to say.

Joe is on the cusp of justice.

Where will it end? There is only one possibility. I find myself reading the obituary pages with increasing interest and jotting down “Older Than Me” or “Younger Than Me”.

Usually I forget my age. Recently, after lunch with some of my graduate students, I caught our reflection in a shop window and briefly wondered what the identity of the little old man in our midst was.

It’s not death that’s troubling about a second Biden term. It is the diminishing capacities that come with aging.

When I get together with old friends, our first ritual is an ‘organ recital’ – how are you? heart? hip? eyesight? to belong? prostate? hemorrhoids? The recital can lead (and ruin) an entire lunch.

The question my friends and I jokingly (and cheekily) asked each other in college – “getting a lot?” – now refers not to sex but to sleep. I don’t know anyone over 75 who sleeps through the night.

When he was president, Bill Clinton was proud that he only got about four hours. But he was in his forties at the time. (I also remember cabinet meetings where he dozed off.) How’s Biden doing?

My memory for names is terrible. I once asked Ted Kennedy how he remembered names and he advised that if a man is over 50, just ask “how’s the backside?” and he will think you know him.

I often don’t remember where I left my wallet and keys. Certain proper names have completely disappeared. Even if they are rediscovered, they have a diabolical way of disappearing again.

Biden’s Secret Service may be concerned about his wallet, and he has a teleprompter for quirky nouns, but I’m sure he’s experiencing a decline in the memory department.

I no longer feel great enthusiasm for travel and, like Philip Larkin, would like to visit China provided I could return home that evening. Air Force One makes this possible under most circumstances. It also has a top-notch bedroom and bathroom, so I don’t expect Biden’s travels to be overly taxing.

I have been told that after the age of 60, one loses an inch of height every five years. This doesn’t seem to be a problem for Biden, but it’s a challenge for me, as I didn’t make it all the way to five feet at my peak. If I live as long as my father, I can disappear.

Another reduction I’ve noticed is tact. I recently gave the finger to a driver who passed me recklessly. Today, giving the finger to a stranger is a reckless act in itself.

I also notice less patience, perhaps from using an unconscious “until” timer that now clicks away. I’m less tolerant of long queues, automated phone menus, and Republicans.

How the hell does Biden maintain tact or patience when dealing with Joe Manchin?

The style sections of the papers tell us that the 70s is the new 50s. Seventies are supposed to be fit and alert, exercise like crazy, have roaring sex and party until dawn.

Nonsense. Inevitably, things start to fall apart. My aunt, who lived well into her 90s, told me, “Getting old is not for the faint of heart.” Towards the end, she repeated that sentence every two to three minutes.

I remain optimistic – despite the incendiary Republican Party, the ravages of climate change, near-record inequality, a potential nuclear war and a persistent pandemic – largely because I still spend most of my days in my twenties, whose fizz gives me courage. Maybe Biden does too.

But it’s bothering me more and more. I make videos on TikTok and Snapchat, but when my students refer to Ariana Grande or Selena Gomez or Jared Leto, I have no idea who they’re talking about (and frankly I don’t care).

And I find myself using words — “hence,” “extremely,” “therefore,” “tony,” “brilliant” — that my younger colleagues find charmingly old-fashioned. When I refer to “Rose Marie Woods” or “Jackie Robinson” or “Ed Sullivan” or “Mary Jo Kopechne,” they are baffled.

The culture has flipped in so many ways. When I was 17, I could go to a drugstore and confidently ask for a pack of Luckies and nervously whisper a condom request. Now it is exactly the other way around. (I quit smoking a long time ago.)

Santayana said that old people have premonitions about the future because they cannot imagine a world that is good without themselves in it. I do not share that opinion. Rather, I think my generation—including Bill and Hillary, George W, Trump, Newt Gingrich, Clarence Thomas, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and Biden—has ruined it royally. The world will probably be better without us.

Joe, please don’t run away.

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