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  Opinion   Columnists  08 Jul 2024  Aakar Patel | Biden vs Trump: Can Joe convince America he’ll be fit 4 more years?

Aakar Patel | Biden vs Trump: Can Joe convince America he’ll be fit 4 more years?

Aakar Patel is a senior journalist and columnist
Published : Jul 9, 2024, 12:12 am IST
Updated : Jul 9, 2024, 12:12 am IST

Amid concerns about his age and mental acuity, President Joe Biden insists on running for a second term

 US President Joe Biden speaks to supporters and volunteers during a campaign stop at a Biden-Harris campaign office in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on July 7, 2024. Biden is back out on the campaign trail Sunday, desperate to salvage his re-election bid as senior Democrats meet to discuss growing calls that he quit the White House race. The 81-year-old Democrat kicks off a grueling week with two campaign rallies in the battleground state of Pennsylvania, before hosting the NATO leaders' summit in Washington. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)
  US President Joe Biden speaks to supporters and volunteers during a campaign stop at a Biden-Harris campaign office in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on July 7, 2024. Biden is back out on the campaign trail Sunday, desperate to salvage his re-election bid as senior Democrats meet to discuss growing calls that he quit the White House race. The 81-year-old Democrat kicks off a grueling week with two campaign rallies in the battleground state of Pennsylvania, before hosting the NATO leaders' summit in Washington. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)

America’s President Joe Biden, who is 81, says he will not drop out of the election in November and intends to be President again. The problem is that he is now being urged by people in his own party to quit, on the understanding that he is too old and too impaired to do the job competently. Age by itself is not so important as much as acuity. Mr Biden would get by if he were physically held back by his advanced years, but here the issue is his mental state.

American Presidents, more than leaders in parliamentary democracies, have for a long time been asked questions regarding age because of the immense power they wield. Ronald Reagan was 73 when he was campaigning for his second term, and thought to be too old. Mr Biden was dull during his debate but Ronald Reagan on live television took the age issue head on.

When a political correspondent named Henry Trewhitt noted that, “you already are the oldest President in history”, Reagan responded with a famous line: “I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

Mr Biden is already older than Reagan was at the end of his second term and by far the oldest man to hold the office, let alone the oldest to run for a second term. The US Constitution prescribes a minimum age (35) for people to be President, but there is no upper limit. However, in recent times before Mr Biden and Mr Trump, Presidents have tended to be young, with Barack Obama sworn in at 47, George W. Bush at 54 and Bill Clinton 46. Mr Biden is ancient in comparison and leads a Cabinet that is not particularly young either. Its top members are Kamala Harris (59), secretary of state Anthony Blinken (62), treasury secretary Janet Yellen (77) and defence secretary Lloyd Austin (70). The last named has had health troubles of his own, being hospitalised a few months ago without letting people know.

Britain’s Cabinet, appointed after Rishi Sunak’s defeat to Keir Starmer, is significantly younger in comparison. Deputy PM Angela Rayner is 44, chancellor Rachel Reeves is 45, home secretary Yvette Cooper 55 and foreign secretary David Lammy 51. The next two ministers in order of importance are 41 and 40. Mr Starmer is himself 61 and a generation younger than Mr Biden.

In India, the Prime Minister turns 75 next year, though he says he will remain in office. His Cabinet is unchanged for those holding the top portfolios. The youngest in it is Amit Shah, who is 59. Then we have Rajnath Singh (72), Nirmala Sitharaman (64), S. Jaishankar (69) and Nitin Gadkari (67).

Leaders in parliamentary democracies, which have an executive that is linked to Parliament, unlike the presidential form of government, are notionally less powerful and have certain internal checks. The fear in America is that Mr Biden might make some catastrophic mistake or, at best, be less than able to carry out important functions.

Another reason that the Biden candidacy is thought to be important is his opponent. Many Americans fear that given the events after Mr Trump’s defeat in 2020, their country’s democracy came under threat. Their Capitol building was stormed by Trump supporters who wanted the vice-president to declare Mr Trump the victor amid calls for him to be hung. They want to ensure Mr Trump is defeated and for that the Democrats must have the best possible candidate facing him. Mr Biden has long insisted this must be him but his performance in the first debate means many are sceptical. It is for the moment up to Mr Biden to determine whether or not he will go ahead and as President, his party will surely respect that if nothing else changes. Unfortunately for him, the election is still months away with plenty of time for him to make further gaffes or moments of weakness from him.

It is hard to see how, if he once again flounders as he did on live TV, his supporters will continue to stand by him. The question is what happens if he should drop out. Since the primaries are already over the hard part appears to be behind the Democrats. They have already elected a set of state representatives who will act as an electoral panel and a rough nomination battle will not happen. These representatives, who were for Mr Biden, must now pick someone else. This could be vice-president Kamala Harris, widely seen as a top contender, but is not popular. Other names including California governor Gavin Newsom and other state leaders, none of whom is a national name, and if nominated will have to quickly build a reputation to go up against Mr Trump.

For us outsiders, it will be fascinating to see how the Democrats go about it, just as it will be interesting to see what happens if Mr Trump wins or indeed again loses.

Lastly, the age of leaders is one reason and the main one that the Nehru versus Patel debate is a non-starter. The reason of course is that Nehru was the younger man by 14 years. Sardar Patel passed away in 1950, the year the Constitution came into effect. All of his major life’s work, including the integration of the states, had come years before that. Nehru carried on and most of his life’s most important work came after 1950.

Mr Biden has to convince his party, and then the American public in November, that he is not only fit for office today, but will remain so for four years.

 

Tags: joe biden, donald j trump, 2024 us elections