On Sunday, America will witness a unique moment in its history – when the current president turns 80.
Administrative aides sure want to celebrate with the other big family at the White House this weekend — Naomi, the granddaughter of President Joe Biden, has made headlines.
The political sensitivities of having a man in his 80s in the Oval Office mean there isn’t likely to be any big news at birthday parties — unlike when President Barack Obama turned 50 during his tenure, he hosted several parties, Including one that featured an election-fundraising jam featuring Herbie Hancock and Jennifer Hudson.
Entering his ninth decade, Biden will only lead to more speculation about his re-election bid – a decision he says he will make with his family. The leader said he intended to seek a second term, but after a life marked by personal tragedy, he respects fate very much. Whatever happens, the issue of the president’s mental health is sure to be at the center of any 2024 campaign — because Republicans will put it out there and because it’s a reasonable concern for voters who keep their commander in chief.
Biden’s birthday comes at a time when age is too big to hold political leadership positions.
On Thursday, for example, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 82, announced that she would step down as the Democratic Party moved into the minority in the next Congress.
“For me, it’s time for a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus, which I deeply respect,” Pelosi said in a speech to the auditorium that felt like ending an era.
After two decades at the helm of his party in the House of Representatives, Pelosi has been doing something essential to democracy’s ability to sustain and renew itself — voluntarily giving up power — an honorable tradition inaugurated by President George Washington when he refused to seek a third term. But Pelosi also implicitly asked if it was time to cede power and responsibility to his younger colleagues — is it time for others to do so, too?
After all, the seductive idea of passing the torch through generations has been a powerful symbol in recent American history and animated the rise to power of presidents like John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton, for example. The poignant truth about American politics is that decisions are being made on issues like climate change, foreign policy, and health care that will echo for decades to come and that top leaders will not live to see.
But the old guard is still in charge now.
Two days before Pelosi’s announcement, Donald Trump, the younger political titan, said that, at age 76, he was nowhere near ready to step down from the podium. The former president has launched a campaign to win another term in the White House that would see him past his 80th birthday if he wins the 2024 election.
In the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, 80, is resisting an attempt by a younger colleague — Florida Sen. Rick Scott, 69 — to oust him from his leadership position. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who celebrates the Democrats’ victory in the midterm elections, which means the party will remain in the House of Representatives, is 71 years old.
In some ways, the vitality and drive of older leaders is admirable at a time when so many people have been retired for a long time – and an example to society that the elderly are just as capable and worthy as the younger generations. The elixir of strength that leads them to endure insults and shed light on political life remains a marvel. For example, Biden, who has spent most of his life chasing the presidency, just returned from a trip to Egypt and Asia. The return trip on Air Force One alone took 24 hours.
However, the prominence of the seventy-four at the top of the political tree also raises questions about whether it would be a good idea for young politicians at this point in American history not to take on more responsibilities or wield more power. There is a sense that neither political party has done a good job of nurturing young heirs, a scenario that would create greater distance between politicians and the younger generations. This could be a particular problem for Democrats because CNN polls in the midterm elections indicate that 55% of the party’s voters are between the ages of 18 and 44. And the majority of GOP voters — 54% — were over 45.
Institutional political traditions are also a barrier for young people, especially in Congress where power is built on seniority that takes hard years to accumulate.
However, at the same time, young politicians may also need to look in the mirror. The reason Biden, Trump, and Pelosi remain the most powerful leaders in the country is because so far no younger, more dynamic historical figures have emerged from below to force them off the stage. Biden and Trump faced young rivals in the presidential primaries and topped their constituencies. Pelosi’s ability to hold her caucus together and support Democratic bosses has made her an icon in her party, and aside from a few periods of grumbling against young subordinates, she has weathered serious leadership challenges.
Here’s an indication of the dearth of up-and-coming talent in the Democratic Party: He was the most energetic campaigner in the younger generation’s midterm elections, but after serving two terms in the White House, former President Barack Obama worked to highlight the lack of great talent on the Democratic bench.
Meanwhile, Trump may have more to fear from the young protester.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, 44, was born in the 1970s, when the new Republican president was filling the tabloids as he made a name for himself as a New York hipster. (When DeSantis was born in 1978, Biden was already in his second term in the Senate. If Florida’s governor won the Republican nomination and faced Biden in the general election, the president would face the unappealing prospect of standing on a debate stage with a challenger nearly half his age.)
Trump’s early announcement of a third presidential campaign this week failed to unite the party around him amid mounting criticism that the former president’s refusal to run was responsible for suppressing the GOP’s red wave in the midterm elections. However, Trump’s best hope is that his ardent voters will see any attempt by DeSantis, who ran for re-election last week, to topple their champion as a betrayal.
It’s one reason DeSantis, who has time on his side, may eventually decide to let the 2024 race run. But there are already signs that the post-Trump generation of politicians is eager to bolster his movement.
Former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, former Vice President Mike Pence, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Missouri Senator Josh Hawley and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem have all been mentioned as possible heirs to her throne — although there is no indication That the former president is willing to give it up.
Democrats’ better-than-expected midterm performance helped quell some questions about Biden’s decision about the re-election race. The lack of clear successors also helps the president’s position.
Democrats are concerned about Vice President Kamala Harris’ prospects if Biden does not run, after his failure in the 2020 primary and his uneven performance in office over the past two years. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has been the rising star of this campaign, but his path to the Democratic nomination promises to be rocky. The midterm elections produced two possible future Democratic candidates – Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer won re-election and new Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro. But there isn’t exactly a star of a generation like Obama waiting for a rocket to come to power. And Biden doesn’t have to step down because a must-have young leader is waiting in the wings.
However, this year polls have consistently indicated that Americans are not keen on a Trump vs. Biden rematch. And in midterm polls, only 30% of respondents wanted the president to run for re-election. However, with an approval rating of 40% in these polls, he is slightly more popular than Trump who has only a 38% approval rating among all voters.
“The Bible teaches that everything has a season,” Pelosi noted in his speech announcing his departure from leadership Thursday.
However, an epiphany is unlikely to prevent other major political leaders from trying to defy time.
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