Suddenly after lurking just under the surface, Joe Biden’s age has surfaced to become a major issue in the campaign for the President of the United States in 2024. This is thanks to the damning-with-faint-praise report by the Special Counsel, Robert Hur, which let Biden off the hook from being indicted for mishandling classified documents primarily because of Biden’s age. Hur (who not coincidently, happens to be a Republican) implies Biden is too old, too frail, and too confused to stand trial before a jury. Many Democrats are starting to panic. The talk is all about Biden, however, not his presumed opponent, Donald Trump, who is only four years younger. Both are old codgers. When Biden was a senior in college, Trump was a freshman. Should we be concerned about the age of these two old men?
Yes we should!
But first full disclosure. I have been a loyal Democrat all my adult life. I like Joe Biden. I will vote for him in 2024 despite what I write in this essay, since there are no better alternatives. In my view Joe Biden has not only been a good president, he has been a great president, given the hand he was dealt. There is no medical diagnosis that he has dementia, and he has always been subject to gaffes. The Hur report was a hit job, unfair, and a punch below the belt. Shame on him!
I am nine months older than Joe Biden. I and most of the people I know who are my age have health issues. The “organ recitals” (hips, knees, joints, livers, hearts, lungs, and, sadly, brains) are a common subject of conversation. Health issues for people in their 80s are just a fact of life. We slog through our remaining years knowing that slowing down is better than the alternative. We all know we can’t do what we could do years earlier.
But it is not all gloom and doom. If we don’t currently have a life threatening disease, we 80-something men have a life expectancy of about eight years–even longer for women. Hey, you can argue, Biden will serve for only four more years, so what is the problem? Well, another way to look at the eight year life expectancy is that in 2032 half of us in our cohort will be dead by then and half still alive. Glass half full, glass half empty.
The problem is that the chance of having a disability increases significantly with every passing year, including suffering from dementia. For having a disability of some sort, the chances increase from 46 percent of people over age 75 to almost 85 percent for people over age 80, for one chronic condition, 60 percent for two chronic conditions at age 80 and older. Only just five percent of people age 70-79 have dementia. For people over 80, it is 24 percent, almost one in four. Biden appears to be fit for his age even though he occasionally shuffles his feet and slurs his speech. Should we be worried?
Come on, people! First, the age issue should not be only about Joe Biden. It is about Joe Biden and Donald Trump. They are both old. It is basically about everyone over age 75. And one could argue that Trump is much worse off than Biden regarding mental acuity. Confusing Nikki Haley with Nancy Pelosi, saying he beat Obama in 2016, accusing Biden of starting World War II, constantly confusing the names of world leaders? Please. This dude is not playing with a full deck.
Compare this to the private sector, where except for Warren Buffett, heads of Fortune 500 Companies–and most publicly traded companies, prestigious law firms, and high powered consulting companies–are well below age 75. The median age is around 56; and while mandatory retirement is no longer legal, most companies have figured out ways to nudge their CEO out at age 65 or 70. There is a reason for this. The demands on these people are enormous. These jobs require people to be at the top of their game mentally and have energy, vigor, and staying power. And it is not just CEOs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics only 5.3 percent of all people in the U.S. age 80 or above have full time jobs or are actively seeking work. What does this tell you?
I was hardly the CEO of a big company, but for almost 20 years I was the CEO of Howell Associates, a consulting company which had between 15-25 employees. In my mid fifties I realized that I did not have the energy or fire in the belly to keep it going. By a miracle–which I often describe as defacto proof of a benign deity–I was able to sell the company when I was 57. I kept an oar in the water in the retirement housing consulting world, but not as CEO of a small company. It would have been too hard.
Now compare these private sector jobs with the job of President of the United States. Good heavens! There is no comparison. The President of the United States is arguably the most difficult and demanding job on the Planet Earth. And the stakes in 2024 have never been higher as the war in Gaza continues to rage on, Ukraine appears to be faltering, Iran is on the cusp of creating a nuclear weapon, our country is more divided than at any time since the Civil War, and authoritarianism is increasing all around the world.
The solution? For this election, there does not appear to an obvious solution. Hold your breath and pray that The Donald does not get elected. This would be the end of democracy as we have known it in our country. Work like hell for Biden, vote for him, and pray that Biden’s health, stamina, and mental acuity does not falter. Yes, Biden is too old, but that is the situation we are in, and there is no obvious alternative at this point. We should have never allowed ourselves to get into this mess in the first place.
The lesson going forward, however, is to amend the Constitution setting a maximum age limit regarding at what age a presidential candidate cannot run for office or seek re-election. We already have a minimum age of 35. Why not a maximum? The maximum age should not exceed 75, maybe even 70. No brainer, people! After Roosevelt we passed an amendment limiting the presidency to two terms and for good reason. The Battle of the Codgers in 2024 is a good enough reason that we should never, never, allow this to happen again.