Democrats are very nervous about President Joe Biden. They like the guy. They celebrate what he has accomplished during his first two years as president. But they wonder about tying their fortunes in the 2024 election to a man who would be 82 years old at his second inauguration.
Biden must be annoyed by this. You can imagine him saying, “Folks, what more do you want from me? Has any president done as much since FDR? Too old? Give me a break.”
If accomplishments were all that counted, Biden would have a lock on the Democratic nomination and probably on a second term in the White House.
When he came into office, the COVID-19 pandemic was crushing the economy and killing jobs. A lot of people were on the edge of financial ruin. Biden pushed through a $1.9 trillion aid package that provided loans for struggling small businesses, reinvigorated federal unemployment benefits, and sent direct payments to millions of Americans – enough money to nearly eliminate childhood poverty.
Then, he got Congress to pass his infrastructure bill that provides billions of dollars to finally fix America’s long-deteriorating roads and bridges, replace lead pipes, upgrade airports and shipping ports, boost public transit and extend broadband access to every corner of the country. The measure also makes a huge investment in clean energy, including money to deal with the wildfires, droughts and floods that are being super-sized by climate change.
On the world stage, Biden got the United States back to its traditional leadership role. He rejoined the Paris Climate Accords and re-committed to the NATO alliance. Most crucially, the president has pulled together – and held together – an alliance of democratic nations to support Ukraine in that country’s fight to repel a ruthless Russian invasion.
And that is the short list. Arguably, Biden has racked up achievements that are nearly on par with Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency. There are obvious parallels between FDR’s support of Great Britain’s lone fight against Nazi Germany before the U.S. entered World War II and Biden’s backing of Ukraine against the neo-fascists in the Kremlin. And, significantly, while Roosevelt got his New Deal legislation passed thanks to solid Democratic majorities in Congress, Biden has been successful despite his party’s slimmest of majorities in the House and Senate.
So, if Biden is doing so well – drawing comparisons to the greatest American president of the 20th century – why are Democrats so unenthusiastic about his likely campaign for re-election? Is age any greater handicap than FDR’s literal handicap? After all, Americans re-elected the president in a wheelchair four times. Roosevelt won that fourth election even though he was seriously ill and had only months to live.
Biden’s age shows up in his gait and sometimes in his speech, but, outside of the blathering of right-wing commentators, there is no evidence that he is not up to the job. Besides, as I often note, the presidency is far more than one man, and the Biden team has proven largely competent and professional – a dramatic change from the hapless governing team assembled by President Donald Trump. If a president could simply ease into a second term without having to campaign, there would be little concern among Biden’s fellow Democrats about all the birthdays he is racking up.
But campaign he must. Last time around, Biden got lucky. The pandemic kept him off the campaign trail where a gaffe or misstep might have derailed his candidacy. And he was facing Trump, a polarizing opponent who motivated Democrats to turn out in droves on Election Day. In 2024, it could be very different. Biden does not have the commanding political presence or the oratorical skills of FDR, nor his broad popularity. He may also face a much younger Republican candidate whose politics might be just as Trumpian as Trump’s, yet who might have a greater appeal to the malleable swing voters who decide elections in this 50/50 nation, especially if enough of them are unsettled by the age factor.
The safe choice would be for Biden to decide just one term of FDR-level accomplishment is enough to seal his legacy. However, it does not look as if he is inclined in that direction, so Democrats are left to hope their president can get lucky one more time.
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