Could Biden’s Age Trip Him Up In November 2020?
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
How old, exactly, is Joe Biden? At 76, he is older than Dan Quayle, whose term as vice president of the United States began more than 30 years ago. He’s older than George W. Bush, whose term as president of the United States ended more than a decade ago. He’s older than Bill or Hillary Clinton, older than Al Gore or John Kerry.
He’s so old that he’s not even technically a baby boomer — he’s from the prior generation. He was born in 1942, while World War II was under way, but before America tested the first atom bomb. He was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1972, before I was born — and I’m not that young.
All that accumulated wisdom and experience is valuable and is not to be discounted. Against it, though, will be weighed the questions about Mr. Biden’s vigor — physical, mental, and verbal. The Democratic presidential candidate who is leading in the polls has a tendency to misspeak.
On Friday night at a fundraiser in Delaware, Mr. Biden, according to a pool report, “mentioned a speech he made last week about President Donald Trump and the rise of white nationalism in America. He first said the speech took place in Burlington, Vermont. He immediately corrected himself to say it was in Burlington, Iowa.”
On August 4, Mr. Biden, at a fundraiser in California, according to a different pool report, “almost immediately spoke of the two recent mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, at first referring to them as ‘the tragic events in Houston today and also in Michigan the day before’ but later correcting himself.”
On August 8, Mr. Biden confused British Prime Minister Theresa May with Margaret Thatcher, the second time he’s done that since May, a CNN reporter noticed. Mike Allen of Axios has compiled a slew of other “Biden blunders.”
Mr. Biden erroneously claimed that he was vice president during or after the Parkland, Fla. school shooting: “Those kids in Parkland came up to see me when I was vice president.” The Parkland shooting happened in 2018, during the Trump administration.
Mr. Biden misspoke on the campaign trail when he confused race and income, saying, “Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids.” Campaigning in Iowa, he mystifyingly insisted, “We choose truth over facts!”
During the most recent debate, Mr. Biden appeared to confuse Cory Booker with Barack Obama, referring to Mr. Booker as “the president — that, excuse me, the future president here.”
Mr. Biden is usually pretty good about catching himself and self-correcting, as he did in the Booker case and in many of the other instances. If it’s just clumsy talking, voters are unlikely to care much. In politicians, though, clumsy talking often signals clumsy thinking.
If Mr. Biden is now losing what mental acuity he had, imagine what he’ll be like three years into the presidency. That these blunders keep happening speaks to a lack of discipline by his campaign. It’s admirable in some sense that Mr. Biden is providing press access.
Other campaigns, though, are running closed-door fundraisers, so at least some of their candidates’ blunders are not captured and amplified by pool reporters. At public events, some other candidates are sticking more tightly and carefully to a prepared script.
I point out these problems not as a reflexive Biden-basher. I’ve been publicly urging Mr. Biden to run for president since August of 2015. I start out generally more sympathetic to his more centrist views than to the views of more ideologically extreme, farther left candidates such as Senators Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders. President Trump, while younger than Mr. Biden, is also in his 70s.
Earlier this year, I saw Mr. Biden greet and take selfies with voters for hours at an outdoor event on a cold, rainy day in New Hampshire. It dispelled doubts I had about his endurance. When he spoke to the reporters who remained at the end of the event, he seemed as sharp as he did when I first encountered him on Capitol Hill about 25 years earlier.
It’s possible that the visibility of the way Mr. Biden is wrestling with his own aging could make him a more relatable and sympathetic figure for the American electorate, or for that matter, for the country itself. Plenty of old people vote, and they deserve representation in Washington, too.
Or it’s possible that the Biden blunders will confirm the idea that he is a politician whose moment has passed. One big risk facing the Democrats now is that their primary electorate gives Mr. Biden a pass that he won’t get in the general election.