Journalist to ‘ageist’ pundits: Stop calling Joe Biden ‘too old’
With the 2022 midterms only three and one-half months away and President Joe Biden continuing to suffer from low approval ratings, many political pundits have been focusing on Biden’s age — and even some Democrats have argued that the 79-year-old president is “too old” to seek reelection in 2024. But journalist Andrew V. Lorenzen, in an article published by The Nation on July 18, argues that Biden’s age is irrelevant.
Lorenzen isn’t saying that Biden or any other politician shouldn’t be aggressively scrutinized from a policy standpoint, only that focusing on Biden’s age is a distraction from the real issues.
“Criticizing elderly politicians for lacking sufficient ‘fight’ is among the oldest — and dirtiest — campaign tricks in American politics,” Lorenzen observes. “It’s part of a simple but devastating playbook. Rather than substantively critiquing Biden’s policies or governing, one can call him ‘too worn-out and unfocused’ or ‘far past his prime.’ Maybe say he’s not ‘vigorous enough’ for good measure. Slowly but surely, you can construct a narrative that a country beset by crises hurtling from every conceivable angle is struggling because their leader is old, not because of those crises or the policies that led to them.”
Lorenzen notes that “ironically,” Biden used the same ageist “playbook” back in 1972, when he ran against the late two-term Republican Sen. J. Caleb Boggs in Delaware. Biden, who was 29 at the time, won that race and remained in the U.S. Senate until January 2009 — the month he was sworn in as vice president under President Barack Obama.
“While running against aging Sen. Cale Boggs in 1972,” Lorenzen notes, “Biden argued that Boggs had ‘lost that twinkle in his eyes’ and was ‘just not a fighter.’ You can swap the names Boggs and Biden, and these attacks from 1972 would be indistinguishable from those used in 2022. Of course, such comments about age are far from a one-way street. Biden, who was 29 when first elected senator, faced criticism for his youthfulness and was derisively referred to as a ‘young kid’ by Delaware Gov. Russell Peterson.”
Lorenzen continues, “That’s the problem with ageist campaigning — it’s mutually assured destruction for the old and young alike. The old are accused of being weak. The young are accused of being naive. In the end, the political perspectives of both age groups are disregarded.”
The journalist voices his opposition to having a “maximum age limit” for politicians, noting that some voters believe it should be either 60 or 70.
“Well, say goodbye to leaders often beloved by young progressives: Bernie Sanders is 80, Ed Markey 75, and Elizabeth Warren, 73,” Lorenzen notes. “The list goes on. Sure, you’ll also be ruling out folks whose policies you don’t support. The retirement party for Mitch McConnell, who turned 80 this year, would certainly be a raucous affair. And at 76, Donald Trump wouldn’t be able to run again. But the problem with these politicians is not their age — the problem is their agendas.”
Bringing up Biden’s age, Lorenzen emphasizes, is intellectually “lazy.” But again, the journalist isn’t saying that the president’s policies shouldn’t be scrutinized aggressively; if anything, Lorenzen believes that ageism is a distraction from the type of issue-based scrutiny a president should be receiving.
In Biden’s case, progressives have been happy with some of the things he has done in the White House, while noting areas where they believe improvement is needed. One of them is abortion.
Biden’s record on abortion, over the years, could be described as anti-abortion but pro-choice — which, ironically, is a position that former President Donald Trump once held. Biden, known for being a devout Catholic, has been critical of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, but progressives would like to see him being more aggressive.
In 2020, Biden campaigned forcefully on universal health care, expressing his opposition to the type of single-payer “Medicare for all” plan that his Democratic primary rivals Sanders and Warren favored but favored a major expansion of the Affordable Care Act of 2010, a.k.a. Obamacare. But while the ACA has enjoyed record enrollment under Biden, the U.S. remains the only major developed country that doesn’t have some form of universal health care.
Another criticism of Biden from the left is that he needs to be more forceful in fighting climate change, but that is challenging in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s late June ruling, 6-3, in West Virginia v. EPA — which limits the Environment Protection Agency’s ability to regulate power plans. With the ruling, the High Court isn’t fighting climate change, but promoting it.
One thing Biden has accomplished that former President Donald Trump never accomplished during his four years in the White House is a major border agreement with Mexico.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has agreed to spend $1.5 billion over the next two years on border control technology. Contrary to the claims of far-right MAGA Republicans, the Biden Administration isn’t for “open borders.”
In a Twitter thread posted on July 18, conservative Never Trump journalist David Frum posted, “Given his party's weak performance down-ballot in 2020, Biden over-performed on delivering a Democratic agenda. Arguably, indeed, he delivered more than was wise from his own personal point of view. If he'd delivered less for his party, he might be polling better for himself.”
Lorenzen wraps up his July 18 article with a message for pundits: Critique Biden’s record, but leave his age out of it.
“Biden is old, but that isn’t the problem,” Lorenzen argues. “Rather than succumb to lazy generalizations, we should question the barriers we construct — for the old and the young — to get involved in politics. Instead of critiquing politicians for their age, we should be having a conversation on how we can build a political system where every generation is included and age really is just a number.”
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