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Birthday time: Joe Biden turns 78, will be oldest U.S. president

He was criticized as weak on the campaign. How will he change that narrative?

President-elect Joe Biden turned 78 on Friday. In two months, he’ll take the reins of a politically fractured nation facing the worst public health crisis in a centuryhigh unemployment and a reckoning on racial injustice.

As he wrestles with those issues, Biden will be attempting to accomplish another feat: demonstrate to Americans that age is but a number and he’s up to the job.

Biden will be sworn in as the oldest president in the nation’s history, displacing Ronald Reagan, who left the White House in 1989 when he was 77 years and 349 days old.

The age and health of both Biden and President Donald Trump — less than four years Biden’s junior — loomed throughout a race that was decided by a younger and more diverse electorate and at a moment when the nation is facing no shortage of issues of consequence.

Out of the gate, Biden will be keen to demonstrate he’s got the vigor to serve.

“It’s crucial that he and his staff put himself in the position early in his presidency where he can express what he wants with a crispness that’s not always been his strength,” said Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University who has advised legislators from both parties. “He has got to build up credibility with the American people that he’s physically and mentally up to the job.”

Throughout the campaign, Trump, 74, didn’t miss a chance to highlight Biden’s gaffes and argue that the Democrat lacked the mental acuity to lead the nation. Both critics and some backers of Biden worried that he was sending the wrong message about his stamina by keeping a relatively light public schedule while Trump barnstormed battleground states. Biden attributed his light schedule to being cautious during the coronavirus pandemic.

Some of Biden’s rivals in the Democratic primary also made a case on age — while skipping Trump’s vitriol — by raising the question of whether someone of Biden’s and Trump’s generation was the right person to lead a nation dealing with issues like climate change and racial inequality.

Brian Ott, a Missouri State University communications professor who studies presidential rhetoric, said Biden was hardly impressive as a campaigner, but has proven far more effective with his public remarks since Election Day.

Ott said Biden’s victory speech was poignant, and his empathy showed in a virtual discussion that he held earlier this week with frontline healthcare workers. The {resident-elect’s experience — a combination of age and nearly 50 years in politics — conveys more clearly through the prism of governing than the chaos of campaigning, he said.

“The rhetoric of governing, unlike the rhetoric of campaigning, is collaborative rather than adversarial,” Ott said.

Biden’s relatively advanced age also puts a greater premium on the quality of his staff, Baker said. His choice of Sen. Kamala Harris, nearly 20 years younger than him, as his running mate effectively acknowledged his age issue. Biden has described himself as a transitional president but hasn’t ruled out running for a second term.

“He’s well served in making it known from Day One that she’s ready to go,” Baker said of Harris. “She’s got to be in the images coming out of the White House. They also need to, in terms of their messaging, highlight her inclusion in whatever the important issue or debate is going on in the White House.”

Biden, in a September interview with CNN, promised to be “totally transparent” about all facets of his health if elected but he hasn’t said how he’ll do that.

The campaign has made the case that Biden isn’t your average septuagenarian.

His physician, Dr. Kevin O’Connor, in a medical report released by the campaign in December, described Biden as “healthy, vigorous … fit to successfully execute the duties of the Presidency, to include those as Chief Executive, Head of State and Commander in Chief.”

O’Connor reported that Biden works out five days a week. The president-elect told supporters that during the pandemic he has relied on home workouts involving a Peloton bike, treadmill and weights.

In 1988, Biden suffered two life-threatening brain aneurysms, an experience that he wrote in his memoir shaped him into the “kind of man I want to be.” O’Connor also noted in his report that Biden has an irregular heartbeat, but it has not required any medication or other treatment. He also had his gall bladder removed in 2003.

A September article by a group of researchers in the Journal on Active Aging concluded that both Biden and Trump are “super-agers” and are likely to outlive their American contemporaries and maintain their health beyond the end of the next presidential term.

Some of Biden’s White House predecessors left behind breadcrumbs about the dos and don’ts of demonstrating presidential vigor, said Edward Frantz, a presidential historian at the University of Indianapolis.

Reagan made sure the public saw him chopping wood and riding horses. Trump, after being diagnosed with the coronavirus, quickly returned to a busy campaign schedule — holding dozens of crowded rallies in battleground states in the final weeks of the campaign. Those events flouted coronavirus guidelines on social distancing, wearing masks and avoiding large gatherings.

In 1841, William Harrison, 68, attempted to show off his vigor by delivering a lengthy inaugural address without a coat or hat. Weeks later, Harrison, then the oldest president elected in U.S. history, developed a cold that turned into pneumonia that would kill him just a month into his presidency. It’s disputed whether Harrison’s illness was related to his inaugural address.

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Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. DisplacedCTYankee

    November 20, 2020 at 11:43 am

    Just a reminder: Hillary Clinton is five years younger than Old Joe and more than a year younger than President Drumpf. This country blew it in 2016.

  2. martin

    November 23, 2020 at 11:05 am

    This country just blew it a few weeks ago.

    rump has been called a racist, but facts don’t support that opinion, which I believe is based on nothing but innuendos. Here are the facts concerning Trump and the African American community as reported by Farah Stockman, member of the editorial board of the New York Times.

    1. The lowest-paid 25% of Americans had a 4.5% income boost in November 2019, which outpaces a 2.9% gain in earnings for the country’s highest-paid workers. This benefits African Americans because many, according to Associated Press research cited in 2018 by USA TODAY, are in low-paying jobs.

    2. In 2018, Trump signed the groundbreaking First Step Act, a criminal justice reform bill that enacted reforms that made our justice system fairer and helps former inmates return to society. More than 90% of those benefitting from the retroactive sentencing reductions in the First Step Act are African Americans.

    3. Under Trump, poverty rates for African Americans and Hispanic Americans reached their lowest levels since the U.S. began collecting such data.

    4. Pre COVID-19, African American unemployment was at an all-time low.

    5. The Pledge to America’s Workers has resulted in employers committing to train more than 4 million Americans.

    6. The First Step Act’s reforms addressed inequities in sentencing laws that disproportionately harmed African Americans, and reformed mandatory minimums that created unfair outcomes.

    7. Trump signed the first Perkins C.T.E. reauthorization since 2016, authorizing more than $1 billion for states each year to fund vocational and career education programs.

    The previous noted actions by the Trump administration are all substantive and measurable. The Trump administration has done considerably more for the African American community than several previous Democrat administrations. Considering those accomplishments, it is puzzling that black leaders continue to march in lockstep with the Democrats. Where are the free thinkers in that community?

    From an economic standpoint, the Trump administration has made great strides.

    1. Under Trump’s leadership, in 2018 the U.S. surpassed Russia and Saudi Arabia to become the world’s largest producer of crude oil.

    2. The Trump administration made a deal with the European Union to increase U.S. energy exports to Europe.

    3. It withdrew the U.S. from the job-killing Trans-Pacific Partnership, a major change in trade policy.

    4. The Trump Administration secured $250 billion in new trade and investment deals in China and $12 billion in Vietnam.

    5. It approved up to $12 billion in aid for farmers affected by unfair trade retaliation, but announced a total of $28 billion in aid for farmers in 2018 and 2019.

    Other accomplishments include a dozen hostages freed, moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, initiating historic tax cut legislation for Opportunity Zones and fulfilling his campaign promise to improve the Veterans Administration, just to name a few.

    Trump’s accomplishments are many, but you would never know listening to the Democrat-controlled liberal media. As far as they are concerned, none of these things happened.

    Trump has achieved many of his goals, while surviving a corrupt impeachment investigation, hostility by a liberal press and a continuing pandemic of epic proportions. As I have said before, I wish Trump was more presidential, but he is not going to change his demeanor. When I measure his accomplishments versus his status on the social register, the social register pales in comparison.

    John F. Floyd is a Gadsden native who graduated from Gadsden High School in 1954. He formerly was director of United Kingdom manufacturing, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., vice president of manufacturing and international operations, General Tire & Rubber Co., and director of manufacturing, Chrysler Corp. He can be reached at johnfloyd538@gmail.com.

    That is what should be reported. Not fluff stories on Joe.

  3. Ocean Joe

    November 23, 2020 at 11:59 am

    If Trump is not a racist, you just ruined his comeback chances in 2024.

    The birther lie, the housing discrimination lawsuit, the attacks on Black politicians and cities, the effort to suppress Black voters and the current election lawsuits to invalidate actual Black votes means nothing?

    As for unemployment, would have to say jobs that pay unlivable wages make up most of his claims and this make-believe that covid never happened and we should judge Trump in a vacuum makes no sense. He ignored covid, undermined the scientists, dumped the problem on the states, and let it maul the economy. Proper shut downs demonstrated by other countries (notably South Korea, Taiwan and New Zealand) showed it could be done if the entire country worked together, followed rules, submitted to testing instead of calling it all a hoax.

    No legitimate assessment of Trump’s term can ignore his handling of the covid crisis, any more than Herbert Hoover can be considered without the Depression, or W. Bush without the Great Recession, and in true form, yet another Republican president is leaving us with a giant deficit, high unemployment, and record business failures. Tax cuts for the rich and reckless deregulation don’t grow the economy, they loot it.

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