August 19, 2022 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

The most productive ‘gerontocracy’ ever

Time to retire that talking point.


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The Los Angeles Times reported the results of a new survey that found that most Californians would prefer neither Joe Biden nor Donald Trump reruns for office in 2024.

The LA Times poll followed similar polling in July by Gallup, Politico and others. Each found much the same thing. Voters thought the old dudes were old. They’d had a good run.

These polls were silly. 

The likelihood of voters maintaining that opinion two years from now is approximately 0 percent. Joe Biden said as much when he pointed out, correctly, that if us oldies fight again, I’mma win it all over. More enduring than any survey is the incumbent’s built-in advantage.

This “gerontocracy” talking point has been lingering in the air since at least the 2016 Democratic primary, maybe earlier, when the left-wing had its greatest purchase on the popular imagination. It surged back this summer when Biden’s multitrillion dollar agenda seemed dead due to conservative Democrat Joe Manchin (age 74). 

But why did pollsters ask that particular question? For one thing, it gets attention. It makes for some great headlines. For another, in July, Biden’s job approval was – to put a fine point on it – in the shitter. His legislative agenda had stalled. Inflation was soaring. The rightwing media was hammering him. The future looked bad.

His polling was so low (37.5 percent), the punditariat started writing his obituary. The press corps reported on whether someone else should lead. This inspired pollsters to see what voters thought, which in turn justified what the pundits and reporters were thinking.

Then there’s the matter of Biden’s age.

Right, then wrong
Joe Biden is the oldest president we’ve had. If he runs and wins again, he’ll be in his eighties. (Some of us remember Ronald Reagan and how he faded while in office in front of our eyes.) So there is a legitimate reason to ask people whether they’d rather see others run in 2024. 

It’s no coincidence, however, that pollsters asked around the same time that Biden’s job approval rating was at its nadir. Implicit in the question was a more delicate question: was the president too old to be president? Is age preventing him from getting the job done?

The question of Biden’s age dovetails with a left-wing talking point, which is that the leadership of the Democratic Party is too old. 

Biden is 79. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is 82. Her lieutenants Steny Hoyer and Jim Clyburn are 83 and 82, respectively. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is 71. His No. 2, Dick Durbin, is 77.

This “gerontocracy” talking point has been lingering in the air since at least the 2016 Democratic primary, maybe earlier, when the left-wing had its greatest purchase on the popular imagination. It surged back this summer when Biden’s multitrillion dollar agenda seemed dead due to conservative Democrat Joe Manchin (age 74). 

Many on the left, even some liberals, took the left-wing talking point more seriously. Maybe a change of party leadership really was in order. We’ll never achieve transformational change, some thought, with a coterie of milquetoast geriatrics too feeble to fight for it.

But just when the left-wing was right, it was wrong.

Lo and behold!
The 117th Congress is nearly evenly split. Even so, it has become, in less than a month, the most productive Congress in recent memory.

It passed, and the president has signed, legislation that supports innovation and competition (the CHIPS Act), that helps sick veterans (the PACT Act) and that puts controls on gun sales for the first time in more than a decade. (There is also promising movement toward codifying gay marriage and reforming the Electoral Count Act.)

Then there’s the whopper – the Inflation Reduction Act. That, along with previous spending measures, amounts to “a nearly $3.5 trillion agenda,” Politico reported. “The scope of the issues addressed is notable: the pandemic and its economic fallout, highways, bridges, broadband, rail, manufacturing, science, prescription drug prices, health insurance, climate change, deficit reduction and tax equity.” 

We once noted that the mismatch between the size of Biden’s ambitions and his margins in Congress made it seem like he was trying to pass a rhinoceros through a garden hose. It ended up being more like a pony, but it’s still pretty impressive.

Meanwhile, the average price of gas fell to under $4, which in turn led to 0 percent inflation in July. (It’s 8.5 percent overall.) The jobs market is still running hot – about 528,000 added in July. Biden ordered the assassination of Al-Qaeda’s No. 2 (after Bin Laden), removing some of the stink of the chaotic Afghan withdrawal. The president led the world’s reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Lo and behold!

Biden’s approval rose three points over 30 days. 

Lacking chances to win
Such overwhelming productivity in a Congress that has a dime’s worth of difference between the number of Republicans and Democrats returns us to the question: Does advanced age prevent the president and the Democrats from getting the job done? 

Clearly not.

So we probably won’t see much more polling on whether Americans want to see Biden run in two years. His soft numbers were mostly from disillusioned Democrats. Winning changes minds quick.

But we will see more of the “gerontocracy” talking point. 

It’s deathless. 

It’s an article of faith for some progressives. Advantaged age, their thinking goes, is proportional to poor performance. The older you are, the less effective you are. The less effective you are, the weaker you are ideologically. The weaker you are ideologically, the more you and your party end in defeat – despite all evidence to the contrary. 

To be sure, the “gerontocracy” talking point seemed correct when the Democrats were losing. If the olds would just step aside and let a younger progressive generation take over, we’d finally see victory.

But that confuses the one true religion with opportunity. 

The Democrats were never lacking in ideological conviction. What they were lacking were chances to win. Fortunately for them, and for the country, that moment finally arrived. The Democrats seized it.

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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