February 21, 2024

How Old Is Too Old?

Professional expertise on aging is not required; the voters know what they see.

Here’s an idea. Instead of hanging on every word from young whippersnapper political pundits about whether or not Joe Biden’s age-related deterioration is a disqualifier for another presidential term, why not ask some real octogenarians — folks who have actually been there?

I’m one. Granted, I’ve been in that category for only a month now — but I’ve been rehearsing for quite a while. On this topic, I know what I’m talking about.

The following are my personal observations from years of friendships and family relationships with the 80-plus crowd, along with my own experiences on that same life conveyor belt.

1.) There are vast differences from person to person. Last year, I played tennis almost daily (and often lost) with an 86-year-old friend. His attitude about age was: “Who cares? Let’s play.” And I’ve seen many younger friends for whom that level of physical activity is completely out of the question.

In some cases, there are obvious reasons for the differences — medical history, past injuries, weight, etc. In other cases, it’s a complete mystery. I consider myself extraordinarily fortunate for being born with the right set of genes and for modern medical advances that have upgraded my body with new knees and a new shoulder, along with a repaired heart valve and pacemaker. But it’s largely good luck.

So, we can agree that the number (“age”) doesn’t matter. It’s the person.

2.) Don’t worry about momentary forgetfulness — the name, word, or date that doesn’t come to mind when he needs it. We all have that problem. It gets worse with age but is inconsequential, and there’s no need to hide it. Among fellow old folks, I’ve learned to avoid embarrassment simply by starting a conversation with, “Sorry, senior moment here, I’ve forgotten your name — mine is Jack DeVine.” That breaks the ice; more often than not, the other person has the same problem.

I suspect that those mental slips are much more likely when facing a microphone or a TV camera than in personal conversation. On that one, too, we should cut Biden some slack.

3.) The very real issue with age-related deterioration is fatigue, both physical and mental. Both come into play. The presidency is a 24/7 job — crises can crop up any time, night or day, and they are rarely over quickly. The president must be able to summon his A-game on demand and sustain it for as long as needed.

From my own executive experience, I know how mentally taxing it can be to stay engaged on the full range of important details of a knotty technical or operational problem — and it gets more difficult as the hours drag on and exhaustion sets in. The temptation is often to step back and say, “You guys handle it; keep me posted.”

That’s a cop-out driven by fatigue. We need a chief executive with the physical and mental stamina to stay with the problem, ask the probing questions, drill down for the key answers, and make informed decisions. That’s leadership.

We have no way of evaluating Biden’s mental intensity in times of crisis. But for the guy who needs guidance to get off the stage or who has to ask his staff what reporters he can take questions from, it’s hard to imagine Biden taking firm command of the team when the situation gets dicey.

4.) The most telling way to gauge anyone’s mental or physical decline is simply to observe the person over time. Since Biden has been in the public eye for five decades, that’s easy to do. We would expect that the changes over a long career would be significant, but in Biden’s case, the changes in recent years have been precipitous and obvious to all.

The differences between the Biden captured on video during the 2020 campaign and the one we see today are stunning. Biden was once quick-witted, animated, and energetic — now he is a different person. Watch his posture and his gait (now stiff and halting); watch his eyes and his gaze (now inclined to wander, as if searching for something); listen to him try painfully to get a simple point across (his difficulty is not vocabulary, it’s the train of thought).

The daunting fact is that Joe Biden’s decline over just three years has been nothing short of astonishing. His current condition is marginal at best, and anyone who votes for him is betting on it not slipping much further in five long, hard years.

There are “experts” weighing in on all sides of that dilemma. But it’s the voters who will decide, not the experts, based on their own experience of living in the real world.

In my view, it’s an easy call. Like him or not, Joe Biden is not fit for another term.

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