For the most part I am content with the job Joseph Biden is doing as president. Yet, doubts about his ability to persevere for a full second term keep creeping into my calculus as his stiffness of gait and inappropriate ad-libs undermine my belief he could sustain the energy and mental dexterity required to lead our nation through January 20, 2029 (when I saw that last number, 2029, chills ran down my spine. How about yours? Still, compared to the presumptive Republican nominee, Biden is hands down my optimal choice.)
Which brings me to the question of age limits for politicians. It won’t happen in the near future, definitely not by 2024’s election, but I believe no person should run for office beyond their 75th year. Older pols could be tasked with responsibilities by an elected official, but they themselves should make way for candidates of a younger generation.
Some advocate for term limits for senators and members of Congress. I do not. Experience is an asset. But once they are beyond their 75th birthday, our national legislators should be savvy enough to know when to gracefully exit the stage. We, and they, should be spared watching them cling to power as their bodies try to cling to normalcy. The specter of and infirm Diane Feinstein, 89, and Mitch McConnell, 80, weigh heavily on Senate watchers. Consider also Bernie Sanders, 81, Benjamin Cardin, 79, Jim Risch, 79, Richard Durbin, 78, and Angus King, 78.
On the House side, 82-year-old Nancy Pelosi is still sharp as a tack. But the public shouldn’t have to rely on individual representatives to decide their fate. Pelosi was nice enough to cede her leadership position to a younger congressman. Having two-year terms makes it easier for House members to transition.
Of course, it would take a constitutional amendment for an age limitation to be enacted. Meanwhile, we wait and see.
The competency of age-challenged officials also involves federal judges whose appointments are for life. A 96-year-old judge has been suspended because her colleagues questioned her mental fitness (https://www.nytimes.com/2023/09/20/us/judge-pauline-newman-suspended.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share&referringSource=articleShare).
In Biden’s case, the discussion also centers on Kamala Harris and her viability as his running mate and potential successor before 2029.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, there have been 24 vice presidents, eight of whom became president. Four—Teddy Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson—ascended to the office upon the death of the president; one, Gerald Ford took over upon Richard Nixon’s resignation. Ford failed to extend his stay in the White House by winning election in his own right, as the four others did.
Four sought election to the White House directly after serving as vice president. Richard Nixon lost in 1960. Hubert Humphrey lost in 1968. Al Gore lost in 2000. George H.W. Bush won in 1988 (but lost reelection in 1992).
Four years after leaving the vice presidency, Walter Mondale lost his bid for the presidency (1984), while Biden won his (2020). Nixon waited eight years for success (1968).
Kamala Harris has led a mostly behind-the-scenes vice presidency. Biden needs her on the ticket to retain support from women and people of color.
Is she ready, is she prepared to be president? Who knows? We do know that Truman was in the dark about many thinks FDR kept from him, including development of the atomic bomb. But that didn’t stop him from growing into the job and becoming a great president.
Meanwhile, Joe Biden’s legacy as a strong advocate for tighter gun control legislation may face its greatest challenge with the prosecution of son Hunter Biden for allegedly lying on a federal form to acquire a handgun in 2018 and for being an illegal drug user in possession of the gun.
Hunter Biden may well challenge the constitutionality of the charges. Given that the conservative Supreme Court has consistently knocked down laws that make it difficult to obtain firearms, the president’s son could be the channel by which drug users and other non violent criminals obtain an easier path to gun ownership.