A day before Joe Biden’s long, laundry-list State of the Union address last week, The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Frank wrote a strange, if not aggravating, essay about the President’s upcoming announcement about whether he’ll seek a second term. Frank’s 80, six months older than Biden, and that no doubt colors his ruminations about the age of presidents—he’s liberal, and has the requisite nasty comments about Donald Trump, but his “Comment” is from a different age, short on vitriol and hysteria, unlike, say, Paul Krugman or Dana Milbank, or most MSM pundits—and really hasn’t much new to say, at least for those born before 1970.
Frank runs down past presidents whose age and health were questioned, from FDR in 1944 (half-dead, he nevertheless ran for and won a fourth term), to Eisenhower, LBJ, Reagan and Biden. He doesn’t mention that before 1972 (after the riotous boss-controlled Democratic Convention in ’68), American presidential campaigns were far shorter—Bobby Kennedy didn’t announce his opportunistic candidacy until March 16. 1968, after Sen. Eugene McCarthy’s surprisingly strong showing just four days earlier in the New Hampshire primary—and that the number of primaries and caucuses were fewer. The modern age of presidential campaigns really began when Jimmy Carter announced—to little fanfare—in December of 1974 and then the term-limited Georgia governor travelled across the country and built up an insurmountable lead.
Frank suggests that despite the Democratic political establishment’s desire that the field is set—and it’s reported that DNC insiders are urging a Biden run—Biden has no reason to make his plans known anytime soon. And then he cites FDR’s own 1944 candidacy announcement just 12 days before the Democratic convention, but again, that has no bearing on today’s politics.
He does include a rib-tickling anecdote about Eisenhower, who had a heart attack in 1955 and said he was worn out, waiting until the last day of February to say he’d run for reelection in 1956. “That led the editors of The New Republic to write, with actuarial arrogance, ‘No man elected President at 65 has lived out his term in the White House. No man with a damaged heart has accepted his party’s Presidential nomination.’” Eisenhower died in 1969 at 78 (I remember that day; I was playing softball at my friend Bobby Ringler’s house on Strawberry Lane in Huntington and his smart younger brother Jackie, who heard the news on the radio, said, with a straight face, “The world will never be the same.”).
I don’t agree with Frank that Biden’s first term, so far, has been successful (“measured by major legislative accomplishments and personal sanity… with unsurprising fluctuations in public approval,” he says). And Frank tiptoes around Biden’s clear cognitive difficulties, with the understated “concerns about his health and stamina follow him.” No kidding! Though not as personally grotesque, hyperbolic and self-aggrandizing as Trump, Biden’s had a lot of embarrassing moments and I’m surprised that his coterie is urging another run. (Once again, Dr. Jill ought to face charges of spousal abuse.) But that’s not my fight since I’d far prefer Ron DeSantis (or better, Chris Sununu, Glenn Youngkin or Tim Scott, all longshots) to any Democrat.
I wrote above that Frank’s essay was “strange” and here’s why: after doling out good grades to the President, his conclusion appears—unless I’m misreading—to be a suggestion that Biden retire. He writes: “There may be no rush for Biden to reveal his plans, but, when he does, the announcement should be not only a celebration of the recent past but a sensitive, and realistic, embrace of his party’s future—and a new generation of talented men and women, who will step forward when the President is wise enough to say that he’s letting go.”
Never mind that not many Americans are “celebrating” the state of the union—inflation, a weird job market, cities plagued by random, what-the-hell daylight robberies and violent crime, increased homelessness, price-gouging by banks and pharmaceutical companies—but Frank doesn’t make one suggestion of who, exactly, comprises this “new generation of talented men and women.” Perhaps he couldn’t think of any—although I believe Colorado’s Gov. Jared Polis would make a very formidable Democratic presidential nominee instead of Biden (Polis, 47, openly gay, is quasi-libertarian and could appeal to independents and moderate Republicans)—or didn’t want to say that California Gov. Gavin Newsom is as sleazy, but not half as smart as Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal’s William McGurn (admittedly not a fan of most Democrats) suggested, like The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd, that Biden was almost certain to run. McGurn, like many, cites a Washington Post poll earlier this month showing that “only 31% of Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents want Mr. Biden to run again.” The columnist also says, mistakenly I believe, “There’s no shortage of possibilities [of candidates other than Biden],” naming Kamala Harris, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Newsom, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Pennsylvania’s new Gov. Josh Shapiro. Dowd, for her part, says that Biden’s running—invoking Scooby Doo, Shakespeare and Knives Out—because no politician wants to give up power. She’s correct: but as a Democratic partisan you’d think, like Frank, she’d mention some alternatives to the incumbent. Maybe, unlike McGurn, who’s on the other side, she simply believes the Democratic “bench” is one-ninth the size of Chris Christie. (I’ll give up on politics altogether if the former New Jersey Gov. delves into the GOP primaries.)
—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER1955