Voices: Those of us who admire Joe Biden know he shouldn’t run in 2024

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 (EPA)
(EPA)

Joe Biden is 79 years old. On Election Day 2024, he will be a few weeks shy of 82. It’s no wonder, then, that the president’s every verbal gaffe, every stumble on the stairs of Air Force One, every brusque interaction with reporters is parsed and scrutinized — by detractors and supporters — through the unforgiving lens of age.

And with the prospect of Democrats losing control of the House and the Senate in November, the conversation about the president’s faculties has assumed a notably more urgent tone. A recent New York Times headline captures the unease: “Should Biden Run in 2024? Democratic Whispers of ‘No’ Start to Rise.”

But why whisper? Those of us who admire the president ought to be shouting from the rooftops a simple, unequivocal admonishment: Don’t run, Joe!

One-time Barack Obama adviser David Axelrod characterized the American presidency as a “monstrously taxing job,” and there are plenty of reasons for concern about whether Biden is up to the task in 2024 and beyond. Not least is the prospect of facing any of the candidates likely to emerge as frontrunners in today’s autocracy-curious GOP.

Take Florida governor Ron DeSantis, a relative whippersnapper in his mid-40s. While he might strike casual observers as something of a cartoon, DeSantis is a formidable figure with serious conservative cred: the son of blue-collar parents; a Yale and Harvard grad; years of military service; and a demonstrated willingness to engage in, or actively foment, culture wars — often siding, in true right-wing fashion, with the powerful against the marginalized.

And what of Nikki Haley? A former ambassador to the UN (a body she derided, to the delight of America Firsters) and two-term governor of South Carolina, Haley emerged from Trumpworld’s dark circus with her reputation largely intact. Like DeSantis, she is young enough to be one of Biden’s kids.

And then, of course, there is the unmistakable, looming bulk of the Witch King of Mar-a-Lago. Leaving aside those qualities that have long reliably roused the MAGA base — pathological dishonesty, violent rhetoric, an open disdain for the law and the Constitution — Donald Trump the campaigner is unconstrained by pesky considerations like facts, grammar, or logic. And while Trump is almost as old as Biden (this week marked his 76th birthday), the 45th president has a kind of idiot energy and a propensity for tantrums that makes him seem far younger, and at times downright juvenile.

But even if potential 2024 opponents are less intimidating, or more ridiculous, than DeSantis et al. — think Cotton, Cruz, Pence — the fact remains that Biden will soon enter his ninth decade on Earth.

It is hardly ageist to point out that it would be a rare octogenarian who could handle the presidency’s colossal pressures. Indeed, “before” and “after” photos of presidents from Lincoln to Obama attest to the ravages attending those who embrace the office’s responsibilities. (That Trump appeared largely unchanged after four years in the White House speaks to either a superhuman constitution fueled by Diet Coke and grievance, or a temperament more comfortable golfing, tweeting, and binging on cable news than genuinely grappling with issues.)

Meanwhile, who might Dems run in 2024, if not Biden? The prospects are slim. Kamala Harris’s current poll numbers are lukewarm, and cooling. Eighty-year-old Bernie Sanders remains divisive and … well, old. Klobuchar? Warren? Buttigieg? It’s all feeling very 2019.

But those realities aside, the deepest reason Joe Biden should not run in 2024 is that even his ardent supporters acknowledge his better days are behind him. How could they not be? In Teddy Roosevelt’s famous phrase, Biden has been “in the arena” for as long as any public servant in America, and far longer than most. He has had a hand in era-defining triumphs (the Affordable Care Act, the killing of bin Laden) and debacles (his disgraceful treatment of Anita Hill in 1991). He has risen to heights of unimaginable power and publicly endured unimaginable loss (the deaths of his first wife and one-year-old daughter, and, decades later, of his son, Beau).

Joe Biden is a good man. He has done more than his share and has given the better part of his life to the American experiment. He has done the right thing, the hard thing, and he has erred, too — sometimes catastrophically. But he was there, fighting, through it all. In a couple of years, it will be time for others to take up the burden. The 46th president ought to go out the way he came in: with dignity and grit, and with America’s interests at heart. In 2024, Joe Biden should walk away. He should not run.

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