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This Biden Age Conversation Is Really Getting Old

2021 Official Portrait, The White House

There has been a lot of talk about the Biden age issue lately. Pundits love going on and on about this – particularly erstwhile FiveThirtyEight polling guru Nate Silver, who has spent the last week saying things like “Biden is one McConnell moment away from losing to Trump.” Well, yeah, but so would any 45 year-old running for president. If a candidate has a brain freeze or serious meltdown of any kind, yes – shocker – they could lose their election. All this hand wringing even though Trump is close to the same age, is unfit (in so many ways), and says things that make one question his mental acuity pretty much every day. What people rarely talk about is how it is Biden’s experience and judgment tempered by his long and productive life that have led to him being an incredibly effective president.

I have some perspective on this topic. When a youthful Bill Clinton swept into the White House in 1993, he brought with him a very young and energetic staff (I was a 32 year-old Special Assistant to the President, and there were plenty of people at my level and higher who were just as young or younger), and big margins of control in both the House and Senate, and very, very big plans. We were working 20 hours a day, seven days a week, running from one meeting to the next trying to pass an ambitious agenda. In terms of major legislation in those first two years, we got one big budget bill through, and a NAFTA bill the Republicans and Big Business liked a lot more than working people and Democrats. The Republicans then swept to power for the rest of the Clinton presidency and very few other good pieces of legislation got passed to help working families.

When a youthful Barack Obama swept into power with huge margins in both houses of Congress, he had an ambitious agenda as well. Obama did get the Affordable Care Act passed (which was indeed “a big effing deal”) and the Dodd-Frank bill tightened up some Wall Street regulations in the aftermath of the 2008 financial collapse, but everything else on his agenda fell by the wayside as Republicans crushed Democrats in the 2010 election, controlling Congress for the rest of Obama’s presidency.

Joe Biden entered the White House with big ambitions, too. The moment he entered was even more perilous than the financial crisis Obama faced. Like Obama and Clinton, he had a trifecta, but his Congress was the most closely divided in modern history -- a 50/50 Senate with Vice-President Harris breaking the tie, and a four seat margin in the House.

But because of his age and experience, Joe Biden had far more success in getting things done than any president in modern history. After two years in office, President Biden's legislative and executive action track record engendered a debate among historians: was it the most sweeping and transformative administration in 60 years or in 90?

Joe Biden and the Democratic trifecta got more than 80% of Americans immunized from COVID despite the worst public health disinformation campaign ever. They revived our economy from the depths of the COVID recession faster than any other major country, got Americans much needed money to keep them going in the hardest times, and saved state and local governments from having to make massive cuts in police, fire, and desperately needed public services. They delivered the first gun safety bill in over 30 years. They delivered the biggest infrastructure bill since the interstate highway system was built in the 1950s. They revitalized American manufacturing with Buy in America policies, the CHIPs Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act. They passed legislation to force Big Pharma to negotiate on drug prices and bring the cost of insulin down right away. They made the biggest investment any country has ever made in clean energy.

The four trillion dollars in investments in the American economy and American people will transform the economy for generations to come.

The whole age thing is such a red herring anyway. People age vastly differently from each other. Every family has stories of older family members who can out-think, out-negotiate, and do many more things than the younger folks in the family. We all know plenty of older folks who are still going strong, still tough as nails, still getting great things done deep into their 80s and 90s.

In their 80s, Mick Jagger still has his swagger and Harrison Ford is still making Indiana Jones movies. Norman Lear was still producing popular, award-winning music and TV shows in his late 90s. William Shatner has gone into space. And Nancy Pelosi in her late 70s and early 80s ran rings around Donald Trump, led her party to a 40 seat pick-up in the House in 2018, and passed the biggest agenda any Speaker has passed in at least 60 years with only a tiny margin of control.

I’m weary to the bone from hearing people talk about how he’s too old. Yeah, he’s 80. He walks a little more slowly than he used to, he’s got gray hair and wrinkles. And in terms of the great things he got done, he kicked the ass of every other president in modern times.


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