September 7, 2023 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
The real ‘Biden conundrum’ is about his timing, not his age
He’s the right choice and Democratic normies know it.
New polling by CNN and The Wall Street Journal show the president in a deadheat with the criminal former president, and this has inspired another round of concern-trolling by people who know better but who can’t be trusted to behave accordingly because they are professionally and politically incentivized to pretend that they don’t know any better.
But I want to talk about a factual aspect of this makebelieve, which is that normal Democratic voters appear to be truly uncomfortable with Joe Biden’s advanced age (he’s 80) while at the same time believing that the incumbent is the best choice against the most likely Republican nominee, Donald Trump. It’s being called the “Biden conundrum.”
To the extent that this is, it’s not much of one. Why? If Democratic normies were as anxious about the president’s advanced age as we’re being told they are, the party would be clamoring to provide them with an alternative. After all, an alternative would relieve that anxiety!
We’re talking about a kinda sorta conundrum based on polling conducted in late summer, a time when normal people, who already have better things to do than pay attention to politics, have even more better things to do.
But so far there is no such clamoring. I suspect that’s because these same Democratic normies, who are feeling understandable anxiety about an unknowable future, already know that an incumbent Democrat is the best chance they have of pushing back the tide of authoritarianism. They already believe that Biden is the right choice.
If Democratic normies already know that Biden is the right choice, and I believe that they do, the “Biden conundrum” isn’t much of a conundrum. It’s probably more an expression of the dread and stress that’s experienced in the face of uncertainty. Since no one knows the future, there’s always going to be dread and stress about it that’s often free-floating with no identifiable source. We’re talking about Biden’s age, but we could just as easily be talking about something else.
The anxiety of Democratic normies is also a consequence of them being normal people. They don’t pay attention to politics the way the press corps does, because they have better things to do than spend all their time paying attention to politics. So they tend to reflect the concerns of the status quo, which is articulated daily by a press corps that has nothing better to do than pay attention to politics. If the press corps exhibits a generalized concern about the president’s advanced age, it stands to reason that Democratic normies are going to reflect that.
But Democratic normies know something that the press corps does not – the president is not a normal person. Normal people, if they are lucky enough to reach 80, are not expected to work till they die. Presidents, however, are not normal people. It’s all right if they die in harness.
So the real Biden conundrum, for which there is no polling as far as I know, is not about Biden’s age. It’s about his timing. It’s about whether an octogenarian can go the distance. If the president dies before winning (and before being sworn in for a second time), that would be a disaster. But if he dies after, well, that’s what vice presidents are for.
The “Biden conundrum” is a kinda sorta conundrum based on polling conducted in late summer, a time when normal people, who already have better things to do than pay attention to politics, have even more better things to do. A CNN poll that’s part of the “Biden conundrum” has ridiculous results, like US Senator Tim Scott, of South Carolina, beating the incumbent by two points while Trump beats him by one.
Worse is the pretended sophistication of those who are paid to make nonsense polling make sense to normal people. Nate Silver said that “the obvious alternative to an 80-year-old running for a second term would be his vice president running instead. It’s been striking how little enthusiasm there was for a Kamala Harris candidacy, however.” She would lose to Trump, he suggested. But that’s not why there’s “little enthusiasm.” There’s little enthusiasm, because she’s not the president. Vice presidents have one job – to take over when the president dies.
Here’s what I think Democratic normies need to hear:
It’s OK to believe that Joe Biden is the right choice for the Democratic Party’s nominee, despite all this polling and all these “sophisticated” people giving you all these reasons to doubt whether you’re right. Please trust me in saying that they do not know any more than you do. They only know how to pay attention to politics a little better. Otherwise, the election is a year from now, and people can say all kinds of things when nothing’s at stake. That changes when everything is.
There is, furthermore, no shame in hoping and praying that an 80-year-old president can go the distance – and that he doesn’t die before winning and being sworn in again. Biden stopped being a normal person long ago. You don’t have to treat him like one. He isn’t even asking you to. All he’s asking is for your vote. If he dies after being sworn in, Harris will take over. By that time, Trump will no longer be a threat. (He’s an old man, too.) Sure, someone else will take his place, but that’s a future set of political problems best left to a future time.
Finally, there is nothing wrong with the 2024 election being a rematch of the 2020 election. It’s the opposite of a curse. First, because Biden will busy himself with litigating the future while Trump will busy himself with re-litigating the past. Second, because a rematch would offer clarity that Americans haven’t seen in 30 years. No one knows what the future holds, but a choice like that would be a blessing.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.