The same pollsters who did a dynamite job predicting the outcome of the 2016 presidential election are aligned once again. This time they have struck a decisive blow for ageism. To hear them tell it, a majority of the electorate is united on the idea that old people should not be living in the White House.
Totally missing from this flood of stories tied to Joe Biden’s decision last week to run for reelection is the fact that our country refuses to take a stand against rampant age discrimination.
To hear the media tell it, the same people who believe Black Lives Matter, contribute to the Anti-Defamation League, support the #MeToo movement, fight for the rights of the LGBTQ community and blast discrimination against our Native American community … are iffy when it comes to the rights of older people.
Take a look at the comics, television, film and social media and you quickly see why ageism is considered fashionable. It’s fair play to ridicule old people. Within hours of declaring his decision to run for reelection, Biden was being put down on social media because he is an octogenarian.
Writers’ rooms on late night shows quickly turned him into an easy target. The fact that he has accomplished more in less time than any of his predecessors on gun control, infrastructure funding, transportation, the environment, postal reform, prosecution of domestic terrorists? That’s beside the point.
Through an international coalition he helped create, Biden has, according to the Wall Street Journal, crippled the Russian economy — in contrast to his predecessor, who ran a financial laundromat for Russian mobsters. Obviously his decades of political experience on the international front were critical to the result. Being older gave him an advantage because he knew and understood the political leadership of our opponents.
All of this ageism plays directly into the Republican strategy. You can bet Republicans will take on Biden for his age rather than the popular policies that have expanded Obamacare, helped tame Covid-19, and offered debt relief to folks with student loans. Of course Democrats will have the same opportunity when it comes to Trump, but focusing on his age almost risks the implication that he has any capacity or desire to lead when his health permits.
Neither side seems to realize that this approach plays into the worst kind of discrimination. Old people run companies, practice medicine, preach sermons, fly airplanes, take care of their children and grandchildren. They fight for women’s rights and voting rights, racial equity and the environment. Why then would beneficiaries of the progress policy and a politics of inclusion decide that an incumbent like Joe Biden should not have the right to run for a second term.
Categorically booting out politicians once they turn 80 would dramatically change the lineup in American legislatures. It makes far more sense to look at a candidate’s record than their potential longevity. Youth helped make John F. Kennedy president but it took an older man, Lyndon Johnson to put through the Civil Rights Bill. Obama inspired us with a message of hope, but Biden has demonstrated that he is much better at passing critical legislation necessary to protecting vulnerable communities and the environment.
There is one other Biden detail that’s important. At a time when scandals are taking down so many political and business leaders, it’s clear that our president — and presumptive incumbent candidate in 2024 — has been thoroughly vetted and is not vulnerable to the kind of scandal that helped defeat the pollster’s “shoe-in” candidate Hillary Clinton. Any other Democratic nominee could easily become the victim of yet another disinformation attack by Vladimir Putin.
For those who think Joe Biden’s destiny is to serve a single term, don his aviators and drive his Corvette into the sunet, I say be careful what you wish for. A contested primary, divisive convention, and all the ammunition from within the Democratic Party could create plenty of shrapnel for whoever ends up at the top of the ticket. Alternatively, a second Biden term, without a looming Trump campaign on the horizon, could be an incredible incubator for a new generation of progressive political leaders in critical executive branch roles — and four more years to continue diversifying the federal judiciary.
Don’t be fooled by the polls. Joe Biden’s record is far more important than his age.
Roger Rapoport’s play Old Heart is on stage at Muskegon’s Overbrook Theater May 20 and 21. Details are at rogerrapoport.com/old-heart.