A bolder vision for Biden’s America

In the wake of Biden’s faltering performance at the debate on June 27, many people wanted him to step down. I was one of them. Since then, the chorus has swelled, with progressive pundits, major media outlets, and big donors telling Joe it’s time to go. It’s easy to come up with reasons why he should.

One is hubris.  Biden’s intransigence fuels the stereotype of the selfish older who refuses to yield to his successors. Jill Biden’s quote on the cover of Vogue—“We will decide our future”—is entitled and authoritarian.

Another reason is competence. Age slows. Biden’s lapses have become more frequent. During the debate, he was occasionally incoherent. I felt that ought to disqualify him.

An exchange with my friend Peter Torres Fremlin, who writes the Disability Debrief newsletter, helped me see things differently. For one thing, different camps prioritize different competencies. Trump is incoherent too. His supporters don’t care. Peter also pointed out that “if someone struggles to articulate key political positions, they could rely on preparations or accommodations as support. Or get someone else to do it: why is it necessary for a President to do it themselves? But,” he went on, “either a different approach is needed, or a different person.”

I’m calling for a different approach.

I reject the reasoning that Biden should step down. It’s ableist because it ties the value of a human being to a single model of cognitive function, and anti-communitarian because it’s every man for himself. I also reject its counterpoint, that Biden should double down. I’m not comfortable in either camp.

I don’t want a better candidate. I want a better world. One that offers more options than “step up” or “step down.” One that doesn’t impose false binaries — employed or useless, competent or incapacitated, “independent” or burden —  onto the messiness and ambiguities of being human.

Seem unimaginable? Last night, along with hundreds of locals and tourists, I watched a movie in Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore. It was part of the city’s Il Cinema Ritrovato festival. The opening short explained that the festival celebrates older “rediscovered” movies, and showed buckets of olders in attendance. “Never forget,” the narrator said, “that frailty is beauty.” Imagine that.

19 thoughts on “A bolder vision for Biden’s America

  1. As always, you bring discernment and cogent thoughtfulness! Thank you for your layered exquisite thinking and capacity to covey your holistic framework. So sorry I can’t join you in Montreal!

  2. Super interesting thoughts and perspectives on the Biden situation! You need to be on a mainstream media talking about this so people can start thinking in a better way .

    1. I agree, the media chorus sounds more like a lynch mob, I’m sick of it, & refuse to fall for it. The displays of confused & lost thinking, plus outright lying on the other side is so much worse. But the media gives that one a pass daily, as they over/ cover his every move & nasty quip.

  3. I too would like to live in a world that was less ableist and more compassion and inclusive. Frailty is a beauty. But the world in which we are operating and will be operating for the next four months is one in which demonstrable public leadership is a requirement for the job, and it was clear last thursday that he could not consistently bring that public leadership to the job, and worse, at a moment when that public leadership was critically important.

  4. Honestly, due to the stakes I’d vote for him if he was on a ventilator. Kidding aside, the logistics of putting another candidate in is too chaotic and certainly would put us behind. Perhaps he is not as spry as he used to be but 90 minutes does not a man make. Look at the record for the last 3 years. Perhaps imperfectly but he is working for us and Democracy! Also he is surrounded by good people that would keep the guardrails up. Rather that than someone surrounded by Yes sir anything you say sir types and working for his own personal gain!

  5. Hard decision for both of them talking incoherently and answering the questions itself

    1. For Trump answering the questions wasn’t a concern. He used the time to spew his vitriol. Biden wasn’t able to cogently respond. Does that mean he’s too diminished to lead? Theres no way to answer. What we do know is that this isn’t a binary choice. There’s no choice. Trump must be stopped. Biden has demonstrated vigor just not on a very large stage. In an ideal world we wouldn’t be faced with catastrophe. Trump has made Biden’s age the issue but it isn’t. It’s the fate of our democracy

  6. Hi Ashton, I too want a better world. Right now, however, all I want is to beat Trump. So all I care about is who can beat him. If that’s Biden, I want Biden. If we have a better chance with somebody else, that’s who I want. I don’t think this is a time for being thoughtful about anything except keeping Trump and his tribe away from the WH, building a strong Democratic majority in the House and Senate, and probably expanding the Court. Just about everything you and I care about is on the table for extinction. (And if you, like I, are not a fan of our current policy in the Middle East, consider what it would be under T.) Love, Judy

  7. What you write may all be true, however, Biden/Harris are the only Democrats legally on the ballets in all 50 states. Democrats are better off electing Biden having Biden step down after being sworn in.
    Then President Harris can appoint a Vice President to be confirmed by the Senate. The Larger problem is we should have age limits on who can run for President, Vice President and Congress. We also need
    age limits for all federal employees, judges and Supreme Court. If we had mandatory retirement age of 72 for all elected officials then neither BIden nor Trump would be able to run this year.

    1. Strong disagree about age limits. Part of the culture change I’m working towards, however, would enable more off-ramps (and on-rams, and on- and off-again ramps) to encourage people to transition more easily and without stigma from one role to another.

  8. Guess what? If you scrutinize an elder person with a camera and endless questions, you WILL find evidence of aging. And, you can harp on those moments as proof of whatever you want. What I find Biden guilty of is not knowing/caring how he appears to others at times, how his current communication style comes across at times, and not directly addressing the fact that people are looking for reasons to dismiss him, perhaps due to their own fears and misconceptions around aging. I would like it if he admitted to some cognitive difficulties, it’s only natural after all, no one needs to be superhuman, that would be a lie. Just as an elder might use a cane to walk, an elder can also use trusted people to help them act. I would like it if he said something along the lines of: “Yes, I have my moments, but mostly I’m on track, I’ve got the big picture and the solutions in mind, I’ve got my eyes on the prize for America. Which is why I’m going to have the world’s best cabinet around me to help me enact my agenda, and tell me when I’m sounding like a tired old man, and work with me on all the daily issues that come up in this job. Together we’ll get it done.”

  9. Unfortunately, our country has way too much at stake with this election. Trump has done an enormous amount of damage already, almost an incalculable amount. If he is re-elected, which he will be if Biden insists upon running again, The Heritage Foundation — laughably insane as their Project 2025 agenda might seem — will have a seat at the presidential table and the hideous, downward spiral will begin, even more so than it already has. It may be a trajectory from which the United States will not recover. The experiment of democracy for us may be over. I don’t think we should tolerate that. Trump is indeed incoherent, but he’s forcefully incoherent and it’s not because he’s aged; it’s because he’s a narcissistic, useful idiot. It’s not Biden’s age or cognitive issues that are the problem: it’s his overall lack of personality. He’s never been a forcefully engaging presence in his 50 years in public office. He was on the wrong side of the Anita Hill hearings 30 years ago, and now look where we are with Clarence Thomas. Trump is all personality, noxious and odious as it may be, but it’s what has carried him his entire life and projected him onto the political stages he now commands, in all his horror. Speaking in film terms, Biden just doesn’t have that Clara Bow “It.” Right now we need someone with “It” to stand up forcefully and scream, not stare blankly into the camera and lose a train of thought. It would be wonderful if we lived in a better world. But, we don’t. Biden needs to step down.

  10. I’ve listened to the audiobook of “This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism” several times and REALLY liked it.
    If his doctor says he’s fine and he wants to run, then great. Only a qualified medical professional can diagnose medical issues. Unfortunately, many people with an extreme anti-Biden bias on comment boards are using any hint of human imperfection as a reason to fuel ageism and conspiracy theories. (Instead of “evaluating his experience, track record, and other qualifications” they focus on his age and pretend to be his doctor diagnosing medical conditions, etc.)
    “Generalizations about the capacities of older people are no more acceptable than racial or gender stereotypes. Period.” I think about this paragraph (influenced by the book and related articles) whenever I read a news story or comment that leans heavily ageist which is still unfortunately too often. What shocks me is supporters of Biden such as Michael Moore & Bill Maher also think he should step down – simply because “he’s too old.” Really?! Sigh.

    1. It’s really discouraging to see so much ableism and ageism in our society. The curtain has been pulled back and now we see the reality. Imagine a world where a slower walk due to spinal arthritis, or the appearance of being older, or normal age-related cognitive changes are not disqualifiers for public office. I’m very much against age limits for public office holders.

      1. I think Biden has been a good (maybe great) president, but he’s never been a great campaigner. Governing requires discernment, judgement, wisdom. Campaigning requires vision, nimbleness, brilliance. He wasn’t great at articulating a vision, energizing supporters, and landing critiques on Trump in 2020, and he’s only gotten worse since then. We need to win the election in order to govern and benefit from Biden’s advantages.

  11. I think there is a tremendous difference, however, in ageism and ableism with regard to physical limitations versus cognitive issues when politics are involved. FDR was wheelchair bound with polio, and he started feeling the effects of that disease before he was elected for his first term as President; but wound up being elected for an unprecedented (and unequaled) four terms. He was elected President in 1933 in the middle of the Great Depression and remained President until he died at age 63 in 1945, with WWII still raging. (Truman finished out the War.) FDR was a forceful, innovative, highly creative, and much beloved President. Age was a different factor 75 years ago, because people did not live as long as they routinely do today. I’m also vehemently against age limits, but I don’t really think age limits are a key issue right now, because Biden and Trump are relatively the same age. This is really about the ability to hear a sociopathic narcissist spewing his vile lies and being able to scream back at him that he’s a Goddamned liar, and a convicted felon with plans to dismantle democracy. Did I write “scream?” I mean SCREAM. Biden just does not have “the force” in him. I believe the calls to step down are less about having ”brain freeze moments” than they are about having a forceful personality to meet a cult leader head on. Remember when Michelle Obama suggested, “When they go low, we go high?” That was 2016, and that didn’t work. When they go low, we better go LOUD. I mean physically LOUD. And I truly believe that is the difference right now. I want Joe Biden to step down: and not because I’m ageist or ableist, but because politics is theatre. The people in the back row need to hear. In America, the age and even the political platform is not the job requirement. Sadly, in our shallow, short-attention-span society, the ability to perform on stage is the requirement. Biden simply does not have the theatrical ability.

  12. While the media have talked about it as an aging issue, it’s becoming increasingly clear that this is about illness, probably Parkinson’s. That’s the distinction that’s important to make right now: age vs disease.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *