by Roxanne Tellier
Over the last few years, Joe Biden has had his share of ‘foot in mouth’ moments. This week, he peeled off a doozy.
While speaking at the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health on Wednesday, Biden called out for Rep. Jackie Walorski, asking “Jackie, are you here? Where’s Jackie? I think she wasn’t going to be here – to help make this a reality.”
Unfortunately, Representative Walorski, who had played a big part in advancing the bill, died in a car accident in early August. It’s possible that Biden had her name in mind because he had been briefed earlier on a visit that her family would be making to the White House on the coming Friday, where he would sign a bill in her honour.
So – he made a mistake. Humans do that. I do that twenty times a day. Trump did it maybe fifty times a day, including that time when he called out Frederick Douglas – who had been dead for over a hundred years – for the good job he’d been doing lately. Stuff happens.
And Biden’s been a little busy lately, trying to save democracy, and the world from nuclear devastation and stuff. What else has he been up to? Oh yeah, finally getting that pharmacy bill passed so that the poorest Americans can actually live a little longer than when they had to share their diabetes meds … giving aid to a disaster shocked Florida, instead of just popping by to toss them paper towels … getting the nation’s infrastructure sorted. He’s been occupied, and not by a weekly golf game.
Joe Biden gets things done because he has more experience at getting things done than almost all other Democrats (and Republicans) combined. That’s Biden’s strength. Knowledge and ability comes with age, time in the job, and real-world experience.
Still, the pundits went crazy, and up the cry went, yet again, that Biden was just too old to be president, and that he was clearly senile. I expect that sort of thing from Republicans, but the frightening thing was how many left leaning, self professed Democrats piled on as well.
I’d gotten almost used to this constant refrain during the runup to 2020’s election, when Biden – who is three years older than Trump – was continually smeared for his gaffes, and his occasional physical limitations. (Give me a break – Biden rides a bike, Trump barely manages to steer a golf cart.)
But when the ageism starts sneaking in from the sidelines, from those who begged Americans to vote trump out, and Biden in, in 2020, it’s kind of nauseating. I’m looking at you, MSNBC, who never miss a chance to diss Biden. And why was Stephen Colbert parading footage, from last March, of Biden’s fall up the plane stairs, over and over, to his seemingly left-leaning audience, just a few weeks ago? Colbert likes to behave like he’s above cheap shots, but he’s done it enough times that I can only think he’s blind to his own ageism.
Bill Maher has slurred Biden as well, in the past. So I was surprised when he defended Biden’s gaffe this past Friday,
“During Friday’s monologue, Maher said Republicans “lost their s—” over the gaffe, “the kind he’s made for 50 years.”
“There’s 535 members of Congress, OK?… I’m not saying it was a great moment. Again, 535 members. He forgot she was dead. The last guy forgot we were a democracy! Can we have a little perspective?” Maher excused Biden before railing against former President Donald Trump for one of his memorable gaffes.
Later during the panel discussion, Maher clashed with one of his guests, The Atlantic staff writer Caitlin Flanagan, who suggested Biden shouldn’t seek re-election in 2024 because he’s “super old.”
“There’s nothing wrong with being old, there’s no shame to it… but there are natural processes that happen and it certainly seems like he’s losing his acuity, which a lot of older men do,” Flanagan said.
“I’m so disappointed that you, like me, not so young, would say this. It’s such bulls—,” Maher reacted. “
Later, on the same show, CNN contributor Van Jones chimed in, saying, “When Biden’s strong, he’s very strong. And when he’s weak, he’s very weak,” which is “what people are responding to.”
“If the public in 2024 sees what they perceive to be a weak insider versus a scary outsider, a Trump or a DeSantis — that’s a perception… I do think that people have a reason to be concerned if he continues to be perceived to be weak, but the reality is, what’s the alternative to Biden?” Jones asked. “
The reason why there’s no viable alternative to Biden is – ageism. First of all, there’s reverse ageism, in that no one wants to be the ageist publicly pointing the finger at older people running for office, especially not those people who are themselves nearing the age of retirement.
Yet, continually re-electing senior statesmen, well into their eighties, and mostly due to name recognition and brand loyalty, means denying youngbloods their chance to have a kick at the Congress Can.
Ageism is a little like ableism; you don’t really think it’s a problem until you yourself get old or disabled, at which point, you’re not generally in a position to do much about it.
Historically, North Americans have given respect to a sector of our older citizens, but most often only to those who fall neatly into our category of being worthy of such respect, based on their ability to acquire wealth and power throughout their lifetimes. Some have risen to the top of their field, and so are deemed to be filled with knowledge, history, and wisdom. But often, that longevity was just the good fortune of surviving longer than their peers.
America took that thinking a little too far. Solid gold health care plans have kept a bunch of reps and senators in power far past their best before dates, and Congress doesn’t have a mandatory retirement age.
Mitch McConnell is older than Biden, at 80. His current term ends on January 3, 2027, when he will be 85.
Dianne Feinstein, 89, filed the initial Federal Election Commission paperwork in January 2021 that was needed to seek re-election in 2024, when she will be 91. “Because of her age and reports of mental decline, Feinstein has been a frequent subject of discussion regarding her mental acuity and fitness to serve.” (wiki)
Chuck Grassley, 89, is running AGAIN in November, against a Democrat who will turn 65 on November 8, election day. If he wins re-election in November, Iowa’s longest-serving senator would be 95 years old by the end of another term. And if Grassley is re-elected and Republicans regain control of the Senate, he will once again become president pro tempore, making him the third in the presidential line of succession after the vice president and Speaker of the House.
You can’t really blame Feinstein or Grassly for not wanting to retire. Life is good for Senators. They have a solid base salary, as well as access to many other opportunities to make bank. They have gold plated health, dental, and medical plans, and if they become ill, they can be assured of gold star treatment, as they are, in effect, ‘government property.’ Their days are spent surrounded with aides, assistants, and security, who handle their every need. Their names are known, they get special treatment in restaurants and shopping places, and they’re invited to all the best parties. If there were to be a terrorist or homeland security scare, they’d be first into the safest places to hide.
Why on earth would anyone ever want to give all of that up – and have to live like the peons they actually are supposed to be representing in Congress?
But with every year, these elders, who have always been, by dint of being above the fray in power and wealth, distanced from the hoi polio, also become less able to relate to the needs of the majority of the tax payers, who are thirty or forty years younger.
Worse still, the clog in the Congress pipe for senators and reps is so dense, based on the serial re-election of the incumbent, that it doesn’t allow younger politicos to get into the game, and get the knowledge and experience that would potentially shape these neophytes into future presidents or vice presidents.
Amongst the masses, aging is very different, and it wields a harsh sword. At some point, especially as technology ever sharpens, our education and experience in many fields will become irrelevant and obsolete. Simply living long enough to have put in twenty or thirty years in your field will not be enough; there’s always some young kid that just graduated who has more up to date information, and who will work for a fraction of what you’re being paid.
Women, and those in the entertainment business, feel ageism earlier, and much more cruelly. We have to learn to conceal our age, lest we segue from the ‘up and comers’ to the ‘once was-ers.’
Men over 50 become a liability to companies, because they want to be paid what they believe they are worth. Women become invisible.
If you’re over 50, you know all this stuff. You’ve felt the sting of ageism, and you’re rolling with the punches, because you have no other alternative. For most of us, ageism can be a killer, especially financially.
Age-based attacks are so common that they’ve become internalized, and shape how we all feel about the aging process. In reality, most North Americans will live longer than their parents did, and often at their maximum cognitive ability, far into old age. Your actual age is not a good indicator of what you’re capable of doing, either mentally or physically, since so much is dependent on our genetics, and how well or poorly we treated our bodies during our youths.
On one level, we all know that; we can see it for ourselves, in our older relatives, and in friends a little older than ourselves. And yet, these negative stereotypes, and the accumulation of continual small insults, can trigger anxiety and depression amongst seniors.
The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t help, as older people, more susceptible to the disease, died in large numbers, thereby reinforcing ageist beliefs in the fragility and vulnerability of seniors, and, in many cases, painting these victims as a burden on society. That same prejudice mentally encouraged many older workers to retire early, rather than risk their health by mingling with other people daily.
In truth, we all age at different paces. Some of us will fight valiantly against the overt signs of aging, choosing instead to keep colouring graying hair, and seeking out cosmetic surgery for a youthful appearance. Others will not seek out the dentures, hearing aids, or cataract surgery they need that would ensure a better daily health experience, because to do so would be acknowledging the effects of old age.
Studies have shown that these ageist attitudes actually impact younger people who accept ageist stereotypes as fact, making them more likely to experience development of plaque on the brain (Alzheimer’s Disease) and cardiovascular events. One study showed that ageism led to ‘significantly worse health outcomes in 95.5% of the studies, and 74% of the 1,159 ageism-health associations examined.”
Biden’s detractors underestimated him, based on his age, despite the fact that Biden’s first two years have been more successful politically than nearly any other president in history. Nonetheless, that stereotype is rampant in society and the business world.
This is the double-edged sword of ageism; we need to respect those who are aging, while simultaneously understanding that we must at some point gracefully give way to allow the future politicians and potential world shakers to enter the playing field.
Should Biden consider another run in 2024? That should be up to him, and his doctor, as they would be the best judges of his physical and mental ability to do the job … not the media, or the rank and file.
We have to beware of underestimating others based on their age. The lucky will eventually grow old, and the messaging that is currently being broadcast will shape how they expect their own aging to happen, and how well they will be treated by others, when it inevitably is their own turn on the hotseat of senior citizenry.