Age, experience, wisdom, and presidential success 2023

It’s evident why President Joe Biden shouldn’t run again. He’s 80—older than any president. He will be 82 during the Jan. 20, 2025, inaugural and 86 in 2029.

In 2020, Donald Trump and his allies called Biden “Sleepy Joe,” which was ludicrous and disrespectful. Given our Twitterized and Fox Newsified politics, one can only wonder what fresh slurs, GIFs, and altered videos they’ll come up with for 2021.

At a time when vast swaths of the nation’s young people are unhealthy alienated and AWOL from its politics and old white men make up only a tiny fraction of the population, it’s clear that the nation’s leadership needs new life, energy, and diversity.

Biden-Harris ticket’s 18-month re-election campaign will face a major age issue.

However, experience, wisdom, confidence, and effectiveness are other crucial Biden qualities to consider and process ahead of the coming contest that the nation has consistently devalued to its detriment.

While mastering a skill or profession—be it music, engineering, farming, psychology, or politics—usually requires more than the 10,000 hours of practice that journalist and author Malcom Gladwell has so persuasively highlighted in recent writings and lectures, practice often makes a huge difference.

Barack Obama. At 42, as an Illinois state representative, Obama riveted the nation with a speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Obama became a presidential contender two years after becoming a U.S. senator in 2005.

While Obama’s presidency had many successes and was, like all others, a product of its time, it’s hard not to feel that a more experienced Obama would have served the nation better at times. From his startling and troublesome caution in tackling a national economic crisis in his early presidency to his regularly blocked legislative agenda afterward, Obama has failed to achieve policy results.

Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, born a month apart in 1946 and elected president at 46 and 54, respectively, followed similar patterns. While not impossible, it’s harder to imagine either man being so easily overtaken by his vices (irresponsible personal behavior, daddy issues) at 70 than in their 40s and 50s. Jimmy Carter, elected at 52 after one term as Governor of Georgia, offers a similar cautionary tale.

Before becoming president, Lincoln served one House term. The 46 presidents’ experience frequently predicts success.

Returning to Joe Biden. After his 1988 presidential campaign failed, Biden spent 20 years in the Senate before becoming vice president in 2008. Given what we know now, the country was lucky.

Despite inheriting an unprecedented national mess in 2021—a raging pandemic, an economy in freefall, a disgraced foreign policy—from a man who was almost certainly the worst president in U.S. history, assuming office just days after an attempted coup, and at a time when Congress has been virtually paralyzed by partisan division, Biden has shown remarkable aplomb in bringing the country back from the brink.

While enormous challenges remain, Biden’s skill, confidence, sobriety, efficiency, and openness to new ideas—qualities attributable to a core of basic human decency and decades of experience and practice in making law and policy—and his triumphs in dozens of critically important areas under almost impossible circumstances make the first 27 months of his presidency among the most successful in American history.

If he were 10 years younger and could give a Reagan or Obama speech, he would be reelected easily.

Conclusion: The last three presidents died in their 90s. 98-year-old Carter. It will be fascinating to observe if millions of Americans let Joe Biden’s age stand in the way of the nation’s ongoing success in the coming months.

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