Biden’s Physical Age is Not the Real Problem

Much is being made about Joe Biden’s age and his candidacy for a second term. If elected at 82, he would be the oldest serving president in American history. As his gait becomes stiffer and he shows more and more signs of aging, Republicans, and even some Democrats, are calling into question his ability to serve another four years as president. A recent NBC news poll showed that 70 percent of adults said Biden should not run again. Of those, 69 percent said age was a factor in their opinion. Although the Constitution places the minimum age for president at 35, there is no older age limit. Biden, like tenured academics, is not legally constrained by time.

Negatives about Biden’s age focus on his physical capacities as well as mental alertness. Many question if he is up to the job now; many more wonder how he will function as president, if re-elected, until 86.

But discussions about Biden’s physical and mental alertness miss the real age limitation of Biden. Beyond his physical and mental states are his inability to react to a changing world. This is not a question of mental alertness; it is a question of rejecting whatever U.S. hegemonic position existed following World War II.

As a reminder: Biden was born in 1942. His formative years growing up were when the United States was the dominant global power just after World War II. He entered the U.S. Senate in 1973 during the Cold War at age 29. It doesn’t take a development psychologist to explain when and how mindsets are formed.

Forget about color television, rotary telephones, and XT computers. Biden is from another era. He sees the world through the lens of the Cold War. It may no longer be the Soviet Union as the primary enemy, although strands of that antagonism remain towards the Russian Federation. Now the primary foes are China and autocracies. Biden’s mind is very much within the “Us versus Them” binary syndrome. And the Us are always the good guys.

Biden might have remembered the failures of Vietnam in withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan, but he will certainly not question the United States as the indispensable nation. He has held two Summits for Democracy in his self-promoting image as leader of the free world, but he has been unable to mediate an end to the fighting in Ukraine. Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed a 12-point peace plan, went to Moscow to meet with Vladimir Putin and talked to Volodymyr Zelenskyy on the phone. Where is the United States?

When the president of Brazil goes to China, he speaks of lessening the influence of the U.S. dollar. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula) called for the BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) to use some currency other than the dollar for their trade. “Every night I ask myself why all countries have to base their trade on the dollar,” he wondered out loud. “Who was it that decided that the dollar was the currency after the disappearance of the gold standard?” Lula asked at the New Development Bank in Shanghai.

Good question. Simple answer, the United States. But the Global South and others are beginning to question if the dollar leadership should continue. After all, the British Pound was very much a world reserve currency during the height of the British Empire. It lost that role when the Empire declined. Lula’s comment and discussions of reducing the dollar’s predominant economic role reflect the diminishing United States global influence, just as the move away from the British Pound was during the decline of the Empire. As American hegemony decreases, there will be other attacks against the primary role of the dollar.

Another example of a re-aligning of global power would be French President Emmanuel Macron’s statement to newspaper reporters on a plane returning from his trip to China and his confirmation of his use of the word “vassal” in describing the relation of France to the United States.

At a press conference in the Netherlands, Macron said: “Being an ally does not mean being a vassal … [or] mean that we don’t have the right to think for ourselves.” Macron was obviously distancing France from the United States, much to the chagrin of some Europeans and Americans. By suggesting greater European autonomy from the United States, Macron was describing an evolving reality.

All of this represents a changing world that Biden and his team are not keeping up with. Biden seems incapable of understanding a world that is not “Us versus Them” as it was during the Cold War. Is that too much to expect from a man who was born when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president or whose formative years were spent under the leadership of the WW II hero General Dwight D. Eisenhower?

Biden’s entire political career was formed in the aftermath of World War II when the United States was the major power. That unusual moment was just that, a moment in history. It has been interpreted as a universal truth – “bound to lead” or “the end of history” – instead of recognizing it as a singular moment in a larger historical perspective. Henry Luce’s American Century, proclaimed in 1941, has fallen victim to accelerated time. It hasn’t made it to 2041, the forecasted 100 years.

Time does go on. Being stuck in one paradigm or time warp risks rigidity, and not just physical stiffness. The best argument against Biden and his geriatric cronies, like Nancy Pelosi and Dianne Feinstein, is not their physical decline or lack of mental acuity. The biggest problem is their adherence to an outdated vision of the United States and its relation to the rest of the world. Lula and Emmanuel Macron are trying to deal with a fundamental change in geopolitics, as witnessed by their trips to China. A major paradigm shift is taking place. Is anyone in Washington listening? Or is old age effecting their hearing as well?

Daniel Warner is the author of An Ethic of Responsibility in International Relations. (Lynne Rienner). He lives in Geneva.