What Republicans are really talking about when they raise the issue of Joe Biden’s age

What Republicans are really talking about when they raise the issue of Joe Biden’s age
Joe Biden // Gage Skidmore

The more Republican candidates running for their party’s nomination raise the issue of Joe Biden’s age (80), the more the president’s allies, among the Democrats and normal Democratic voters, are likely to defend him, almost certainly with some kind of warm pap about age being only a state of mind.

Age is not only a state of mind.

Not in reality, especially not in a job that rapidly accelerates the aging process. George W. Bush looked young when he began. He looked old when he was done. Ditto for Barack Obama. With a huge head start, Biden’s oldness is getting faster daily. (Donald Trump may have escaped such consequences. After all, he never bothered to take leadership seriously.)

When Nikki Haley, former ambassador to the United Nations under Trump, who is running for the GOP’s nomination against her former boss, said we’d likely see the current president die in five years, there could be heard a giant sucking gasping sound followed by a deafening clutching of pearls. Let’s not kid ourselves. Everyone shuffles off this mortal coil. Death, being humanity’s common denominator, is no reason not to vote for Joe Biden.

Fortunately, Haley agrees.

Just ask her.

Haley was not, as headlines variously reported, going “after Biden’s age.” She did not “mock” his age. She did not take a “swipe” at his age. Biden’s age was secondary to Haley’s principal objective, which was reminding audiences that in the event of the old man’s death, his second-in-charge takes over.

In this case, a 58-year-old biracial woman.

“He announced that he’s running again in 2024,” Haley told Fox. “I think that we can all be very clear and say with a matter of fact that if you vote for Joe Biden you really are counting on a President Harris, because the idea that he would make it until 86 years old is not something that I think is likely.”

Wanting to defend Biden is understandable. So is wanting to defend his elderliness. But age isn’t relevant to his opponents. What’s relevant is Kamala Harris’s race and sex. Let’s not help by taking their words seriously. Let’s embrace the moment’s complexity. Anyway, we don’t have a choice.

The president is running for reelection. He will be the Democratic Partys’ nominee. (Pay no attention to marginal alternatives. They are marginal for a reason.) Trump is running, too. He will almost certainly be the Republican Party’s nominee. (Haley knows she has a snowball’s chance.) So far, 2024 is already set as a repeat of 2020. In any other context, Biden’s age totally matters. In this context, nah. He’s the best and, therefore, only choice.

But with a different context comes a different set of problems – and this is where Haley’s comments come to the fore. Right now, the president’s allies are all about defending him. They should. But old men die at inconvenient moments. We should think about that. This isn’t a reason not to vote for him. It’s a reason to prepare for what’s to come in case he dies in office.

If Biden dies in office, Harris will become the first woman president. She will become the first biracial woman president. She will become something no one has become. In the history of American politics, that outcome will be second only to Barack Obama’s 2008 victory, second only because she would not have been elected. Time would tell whether the white-power backlash against a President Harris would be as strong as the one against the first Black president. But let’s be clear: Given what we know about American politics, there’s no question there will be a white-power reaction.

Along with a white-power reaction will be, almost certainly, a white-liberal reaction. I say “almost certainly” because we saw a two-tiered outcome after 2008. While the racists and revanchists dug in, turning away from democracy and toward political violence, white liberals pat themselves on the back for establishing a foundation for a real “post-racial America.”

“Post-racial America” was a lovely bit of liberal propaganda. Yes, it was embraced, encouraged and advanced by the Obama administration, but that’s what it was. The only thing real about it was the way of made white liberals feel. While they were feeling good, they lost focus on a GOP that was turning away from democracy. By 2016, many Americans, not just white liberals, believed voting for Donald Trump couldn’t possibly be that bad.

I don’t believe history repeats itself. I don’t think it rhymes either. I think conditions change, and with them come new problems. But we’d be fools not to consider what might happen if Joe Biden died in office and Kamala Harris became something no one in this country’s history has ever been. We’d also be fools for thinking we can avoid this possibility. Death comes for us. It’s no reason not to vote for Biden. Anyway, we don’t have a choice.

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