Joe Biden Turns 78 Today
It was during the 1984 presidential debate when Ronald Reagan delivered one of the most impressive lines of his political career.
President Reagan, running for reelection at 73 years old, was asked by the moderator whether age was an issue of the campaign. Should Americans be concerned about the advanced age of the president?
In a classic moment of wit, Reagan quipped:
“I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience…”
Reagan ended up winning the 1984 election in a landslide, defeating Walter Mondale in 49 out of 50 states. He would go on to serve another four successful years in the White House, leaving the office at the age of 77 years and 349 days.
And that brings us to Joe Biden, who celebrates his 78th birthday today.
Yes, you read that right. Biden is older before taking office than Reagan was when he left the presidency.
Is that a reason to be concerned? Let’s break it down.
- At 78 years old upon taking office, Joe Biden will be the oldest president in the history of the United States.
- By January of 2021, Donald Trump will be 74 years and 200 days old.
- Donald Trump was just 70 years old when he won the 2016 election.
- The average life expectancy of males in the United States is 78.54 years.
- A person who lives until age 78 can be expected to live for another 9.43 years.
Now that we’ve examined the numbers, it’s important to ask: how do Americans perceive the age of the U.S. President?
As a candidate for office, Joe Biden promised complete transparency and truthfulness reagarding his health. In September of 2020, Biden told CNN:
“I guarantee you, I will be totally transparent in terms of my health and all aspects of my health…”
Although Biden has promised transparency, the American public has displayed doubt that elected leaders are capable after reaching advanced ages. A 2019 study conducted by The Economist/YouGov found that nearly 40% of Americans believe presidents in their 70s are “too old.”
That number doesn’t bode well for Biden. If 40% of Americans believe that Biden is too old for the job, is that something we should worry about?
Even Jimmy Carter, who at age 96 is the longest-living former U.S. President, has spoken in favor of implementing an age limit for the position.
As Carter told an audience in 2019,
“I hope there’s an age limit. If I were just 80 years old, if I was 15 years younger, I don’t believe I could undertake the duties I experienced when I was president…The things I faced in foreign affairs, I don’t think I could undertake them at 80 years old…”
In the minds of some Americans, the fact that Biden chose Kamala Harris as his candidate is a reminder that the vice president-elect could fill Biden’s shoes if he passes away. Did Biden acknowledge his own age by choosing a platform partner who is 22 years younger?
“I do think that in Biden’s case, as it was with John McCain, the VP choice carries more weight than it would if he were younger because voters are taking into account the fact that the VP could step in to serve as president.”
Drexel Heard, the youngest Black executive director of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, agrees:
“Joe Biden has always said he’s essentially a transitional president and he knows what’s coming up next. That’s part of the reason why he chose Senator Harris as his running mate and certainly why he continues to endorse candidates up and down the ballot at a younger age.”
For Democrats, the silver lining underlying Biden’s advanced age is that he chose a younger candidate as his running mate. But is that really a net positive, or is it just a tactic to avoid the fact that Biden will be older than any president in the history of the nation?
Although it is important to look at the numbers, it is true that numbers can be misleading across different generations. Age expectancy has increased since Reagan’s time in office, so years can be deceiving.
“Americans are living longer than ever, and in better shape, so Joe Biden at 77 may very well be in better shape than Ronald Reagan was at 69.”
Whether or not Schiller’s analysis is correct, what must be understood is that Americans are wary of older candidates. At 78 years old, Biden’s age will inevitably play a key role in his presidency.
What Comes Next for Biden?
At 78 years old, Biden must make his health a top priority. Regardless of his performance in the Oval Office, the incoming President will be forced to combat questions involving his age for the next four years.
Just as Democrats questioned Reagan’s mental capacity and cognitive fitness from 1980 to 1988, Republicans will likely pursue the issue of age with unmatched aggression. Biden will be watched like a hawk, and every decision will be analyzed and questioned. We can all expect headlines over the next four years to read: “Is Biden Too Old?” and “Is Biden Losing It?”
Republicans will not be the only ones watching the President’s performance closely. If Biden shows any sign of mental or physical fatigue, Democrats will likely advise Kamala Harris to begin preparing for the presidency. For Joe Biden, age will continue to be a critical topic over the course of his time in office.
© Aaron Schnoor 2020