Leonard Pitts

Our story so far…

The Extreme Court just gutted reproductive rights, shredded a New York law that helped keep guns out of public spaces for more than a century, and crippled the Environmental Protection Agency in the face of a global climate crisis.

Georgia may soon send to the Senate former football star Herschel Walker, last seen claiming the Green New Deal would make America’s “good air decide to float over to China’s bad air.” Amazingly, he would not be the dumbest Republican in Congress.

Many observers fear, as election deniers run to become election officials all over the country, that 2024 could be the last time Americans cast a meaningful ballot. Fascism is on our doorstep.

So does it matter that Joe Biden is old?

The realization seems to have struck Democrats all at once that the president, born Nov. 20, 1942, is no spring chicken. If elected to a second term, which he seems intent on seeking, he would be 86 years old when he left office. The famously ancient Ronald Reagan, by comparison, was a mere child of 77 when his White House years came to an end.

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In recent days, the president’s age — and concern over his subterranean poll numbers — have fueled debate among the party faithful on the feasibility and desirability of another term. The New York Times has not been laggard in reporting on it. “Should Biden Run in 2024?” asked one headline. “At 79, Biden is Testing the Boundaries of Age and the Presidency,” declared another. A Monday story was headlined, “Most Democrats Don’t Want Biden in 2024, New Poll Shows.” A Tuesday opinion column by Michelle Goldberg made it explicit: “Joe Biden Is Too Old To Be President Again.”

It is worth noting that Biden was elected for one reason above all: to not be Donald Trump. In that, he has succeeded. Decency, predictability, stability and maturity have all returned to the White House after a four-year exile.

None of which, unfortunately, puts gas in your tank or baby formula on your shelves. And Biden has had the profound misfortune of reaching office only to find, hemmed in by the usual Republican obstructionism and kneecapped by the mulish intransigence of putative Democrats Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, that there is little he can do with it. Nor is it at all clear that things would be different if he were 40 years younger.

Not to deny Biden’s failings or to dismiss concern over his advanced years. Certainly there would be, in normal times, plenty of room to argue both.

But the point is, these are not normal times. And if, as the saying goes, you don’t change horses in the middle of a stream, you sure as heck shouldn’t do it in the middle of a tsunami.

On Monday, Stuart Stevens, a veteran Republican operative, took to Twitter begging Democrats to understand this. “As a former R. consultant,” he wrote, “I bear responsibility for the democracy eating monster the party became, so I get Dems don’t want to hear this from me. But I’d plead with Dems to rally around [President Biden]. He’s your guy. You’re going to win with him or lose with him. Make the choice to win.”

It is advice Republicans would never need to hear and Democrats can’t hear often enough. If we are lucky, there will again come a time when we can afford to argue whether a president is too old or his poll numbers too low. But this is not it. Democracy is under mortal threat.

And you don’t hold a debate in a burning house.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may email him at [email protected].


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