Progressives Have Advice for Biden Dealing with the Age Issue

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Ezra Klein's recent call for President Biden to drop out of the election because of his age is still resonating throughout the media sphere. Inevitably these things circulate on the left and on the right but outlets on the left tend to reflexively dismiss any analysis or commentary coming from the right as bad faith. So we always wind up with the same basic group of progressive writers arguing with one another as if they are the only people whose opinions matter. It's insulting and short-sighted but that's just how the media ecosystem works. 


So today I looked around at all the progressive writers who are offering Joe Biden advice on how to deal with the age issue. What struck me in most of them is how little advice they actually contain.

For instance, a few days ago the New Yorker published "How Joe Biden Could Address the Age Issue." If you're expecting a detailed checklist you'll be disappointed. The article offers a nice summary of recent events followed by some general discussion of how age impacts memory and physical abilities. Finally, in the penultimate paragraph we get to the author's plan to address the problem.

In the battle to assuage anxieties about Biden’s age, his most powerful weapon is not a physician’s note or a cognitive exam but his performance on the job and transparency on the campaign trail. Biden has helmed one of the most legislatively productive terms since Lyndon B. Johnson but, to date, has held fewer press conferences and given fewer interviews than any President since Ronald Reagan. He’s avoided town halls, and for the second straight year he skipped the interview before the Super Bowl, when Presidents usually address one of the country’s biggest audiences, opting instead for a curated TikTok video.

No doubt Biden faces an unkind asymmetry when he speaks live and unscripted: a smooth interview fades into the ether unnoticed, while each misstep ignites a social-media frenzy. But demonstrating his fitness for office may provide his surest path to reëlection and, at this stage, the country’s best shot at forestalling the chaos and dysfunction of a second Trump term. A more vigorous, more visible Biden would speak for himself. If this approach feels too risky, that’s saying something, too.


In short, Biden should give a lot more interviews to prove he's still with it. This is such an obvious solution that I have a hard time believing the Biden camp hasn't thought of it already. The fact that they've chosen to keep him away from reporters should tell us something. Specifically, it should tell us that they believe more Biden interviews would do more harm than good. I suspect they are right.

Vanity Fair also published a take titled "Joe Biden Can Overcome Concerns Around His Age—If He Directly Addresses Them." A more accurate title would have been "Democrats Should Stop Pretending Concern Over Biden's Age is a Media Invention" because that's really the argument being made.

I do think it speaks to a belief among some Democrats—including, perhaps, Biden himself—that this is only an “issue” because the media is making it one, and that if the Times and other outlets would devote less ink to it (or more to the 77-year-old Trump’s own age-related concerns), it would dissipate. As Klein correctly argued, though, Biden’s aging “is not a thing people need the media to see. It is right in front of them.”...

[Biden] and his campaign should focus less on the media's coverage of the issue and more on addressing it head-on.

What does addressing it head on mean? We're not told because that's literally the last line of the piece. Presumably it's another call for Biden to give more interviews.


Meanwhile, at the Nation, Elie Mystal has a piece titled "It’s Time to Get Over Biden’s Age." And because it's Elie Mystal, he finds a way to argue that the talk about ditching Biden is actually racist.

I find Vice President Kamala Harris to be ready and capable of stepping in should Biden falter. If anything, I find the obsession about Biden’s age to be little more than veiled attacks on Harris—attacks that wouldn’t be happening if Harris were a different gender and race.

The criticisms of Harris’s performance as VP have centered around… her laugh. There are literally entire YouTube compilations and TikTok content centered around making fun of the way the VP laughs. The way the woman laughs bothers some people, and has been the most consistent criticism of her public performance over the last three years. It is 2024, by the way.

This is just another form of whistling past the graveyard. People aren't making fun of Harris' laugh because it's odd sounding but because it so often feels inappropriate and even desperate. She doesn't just laugh, she laughs first, loudest and with least provocation. And frankly when she tries to talk seriously the results aren't much better. As many have said, she often sounds like she's giving a book report on a book she didn't read.

Finally, Greg Sargent has a new podcast at the New Republic and today he has a new episode out in which he interviews David Axelrod. As you may recall, Axelrod has been one of the old school politicos who has been most vocal about concerns about Biden's age. Here's a bit of their discussion.


Axelrod: Yes, I do believe he's sharper in private than he is in public. I've talked to enough people who believe that and I don't think you could do the things that he's done without being that. He's just...he has a deficit in front of the cameras that is really hurting them and every time he goes out there there is going to be that reaction unless he figures out a way to talk about it honestly.

Sargent: And that's the kind of thing he does well. You can envision a way of doing this that plays to his strength. When he's the guy talking to a young kid about his own stutter that's when he's most human.

Axelrod agreed with that but went on to say, "you've got to acknowledge the concern in order to get to the payoff." He then pointed to this exchange as an example of what not to do.

In fact it's not just the judgment of one reporter or a group of reporters. According to yet another poll released yesterday it's the judgment of a majority of Americans.

Driving the news: 67% of those surveyed said they think Biden is too old to effectively serve another 4-year term as president...

Meanwhile, 34% said Biden had the mental fitness to serve a second presidential term, while 48% believed the same for Trump.

I don't think there's any way out of this for Biden. More interviews won't help and neither will talking about this more openly. Ultimately he just looks and sounds too old for the job. There's no way to spin that.


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