At 79, Joe Biden is the oldest president in American history. Concerns about his age top the list for why Democratic voters want the party to find an alternative for 2024.
I don’t think this reflects an “ageist” prejudice against those who have reached such withering heights so much as an understanding that people in their late 70s and 80s wither.
I speak with some authority. I’m now a spritely 76 — light years younger than our president. I feel fit, I swing dance and salsa, and can do 20 pushups in a row. Yet I confess to a certain loss of, shall we say, fizz.
Joe Biden could easily make it until 86, when he’d conclude his second term. After all, it’s now thought a bit disappointing if a person dies before 85. Three score and ten is the lifespan set out in the Bible. Modern technology and Big Pharma add at least a decade and a half. “After 80, it’s gravy,” my father used to say.
Joe will be on the cusp of the gravy train.
Where will it end? There’s only one possibility. I find myself reading the obituary pages with ever greater interest, noting “Older Than Me” or “Younger Than Me.”
Most of the time I forget my age. The other day, after lunch with some of my graduate students, I caught our reflection in a store window and for an instant wondered about the identity of the short old man in our midst.
It’s not death that’s the worrying thing about a second Biden term. It’s the dwindling capacities that go with aging.
When I get together with old friends, our first ritual is an “organ recital” — how’s your back? heart? hip? eyesight? hearing? prostate? hemorrhoids? The recital can run (and ruin) an entire lunch.
The question my friends and I jokingly (and brutishly) asked one other in college—”getting much?”— now refers not to sex but to sleep. I don’t know anyone over 75 who sleeps through the night.
When he was president, Bill Clinton prided himself on getting only about four hours. But he was in his forties then. (I also recall cabinet meetings where he dozed off.) How does Biden manage?
My memory for names is horrible. I once asked Ted Kennedy how he recalled names and he advised that if a man is over 50, just ask “how’s the back?” and he’ll think you know him.
I often can’t remember where I put my wallet and keys. Certain proper nouns have disappeared altogether. Even when rediscovered, they have a diabolical way of disappearing again.
Biden’s secret service detail can worry about his wallet, and he’s got a teleprompter for wayward nouns, but I’m sure he’s experiencing some diminution in the memory department.
I no longer feel great enthusiasm for travel and, like Philip Larkin, would like to visit China on condition I could return home that night. Air Force One makes this possible under most circumstances. It also has a first-class bedroom and bathroom, so I don’t expect Biden’s trips are overly taxing.
I’m told that after the age of 60, one loses half an inch of height every five years. This doesn’t appear to be a problem for Biden but it presents a challenge for me, considering that at my apex I didn’t quite make it to five feet. If I live as long as my father did, I may vanish.
Another diminution I’ve noticed is tact. I recently gave the finger to a driver who passed me recklessly. Nowadays, giving the finger to a stranger is itself a reckless act.
I’m also noticing less patience, perhaps because of an unconscious “use by” timer now clicking away. I’m less tolerant of long waiting lines, automated phone menus, and Republicans.
How the hell does Biden maintain tact or patience when he has to deal with Joe Manchin?
The style sections of the papers tell us the 70s are the new 50s. Septuagenarians are supposed to be fit and alert, exercise like mad, have rip-roaring sex, and party until dawn.
Rubbish. Inevitably, things begin falling apart. My aunt, who lived far into her nineties, told me “getting old isn’t for sissies.” Toward the end she repeated that phrase every two to three minutes.
I remain upbeat – notwithstanding the seditious Republican Party, the ravages of climate change, near record inequality, a potential nuclear war, and a stubborn pandemic – largely because I still spend most days with people in their twenties, whose fizz buoys my spirits. Maybe Biden does, too.
But I’m feeling more and more out of it. I’m doing videos on TikTok and Snapchat, yet when my students refer to Ariana Grande or Selena Gomez or Jared Leto, I don’t have a clue who they’re talking about (and frankly don’t care).
And I find myself using words – “hence,” “utmost,” “therefore,” “tony,” “brilliant” – that my younger colleagues find charmingly old-fashioned. If I refer to “Rose Marie Woods” or “Jackie Robinson” or “Ed Sullivan” or “Mary Jo Kopechne,” they’re bewildered.
The culture has flipped in so many ways. When I was 17, I could go into a drugstore and confidently ask for a package of Luckies and nervously whisper a request for condoms. Now it’s precisely the reverse. (I stopped smoking long ago.)
Santayana said old people have forebodings about the future because they cannot imagine a world that’s good without themselves in it. I don’t share that view. To the contrary, I think my generation — including Bill and Hillary, George W., Trump, Newt Gingrich, Clarence Thomas, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and Biden – have f*cked it up royally. The world will probably be better without us.
Joe, please don’t run.
July 17, 2022 at 03:57PM Robert Reich