Is This Why We're Obsessed With Biden's Age?

There has been a lot of chatter about Joe Biden’s age recently. Pundits, commentators, polling: everybody’s saying it’s an issue. It’s true that the sitting president and almost-certain Democratic nominee is going to be 81 in November, older than any incumbent has been before. But it’s also true that it doesn’t matter.

Biden isn’t young, but neither is his likely opponent. Both of them are old white dudes trying to appeal to a bygone era: It’s just that one is obsessed with bipartisanship and the other Jim Crow segregation. Both Biden and Trump were old enough to be drafted into Vietnam (and both of them managed to avoid it); they were both voters by Watergate and parents before the Reagan revolution. We’re discussing the difference between a man born in 1942 and another born in 1946 as if it’s a colossal chasm in health, perspective, or vitality instead of the gap between high school and college (educational institutions they both graduated from before the moon landing).

And it’s not like Trump is the image of timeless aging. He looks every bit his 77 years, tanning bed and unique hairpiece notwithstanding. This is still a guy who put on elaborate theater to show that he was unaffected by COVID when doctors were trying to put him on oxygen. Nothing about this campaign is going to be youthful or new.

With so little space between two old white dudes, it seems odd to obsess over Biden’s age. Until you realize that the age talk has nothing to do with his health or infirmity, and everything to do with his chosen successor. VP Kamala Harris, who is neither white, nor a man, nor old, is making the entire establishment nervous that maybe we will have to let someone other than old white men run things—again.

Since we don’t live in an age where it’s publicly acceptable to openly ask why it’s even legal for not-white people to do anything, commentators and operatives who are uncomfortable with the idea of a Black woman being Commander in Chief and President of the United States are relying on Biden’s age as a proxy. Biden has been able to make his way to the White House on the strength of being the nice, boring white guy that wouldn’t scare the reactionary white men threatening the country with violence—but all of that is undermined by the very real chance that he could hand the baton over to someone who embodies the absolute inverse of the white patriarchal comfort he represents.

Biden has been operating as president without any of the limitations or restrictions one might expect from an octogenarian; there’s no evidence he’s slowed down the slightest in his ability to serve the people of the country, manage our affairs, or respond to crises at any moment. But the people focusing on his age aren’t worried about how well he does his job; they’re really asking what happens if he has to stop. In this, they should consider that voters didn’t hire Biden because we believed in his age; we elected him because we trusted his judgment. That applies to his successor as much as his governance.

Kaitlin Byrd
Kaitlin Byrd
Knows too much, thinks even more. Has infinite space in her heart for tea and breakfast for dinner. Really from New York, so always ready to cut a bitch.