THE HUTCHINSON REPORT: Is Biden too old for the presidency?

By Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Contributing Columnist

Last April, President Joe Biden announced that he would run for a second term in the Oval Office. Practically in the next breath he tried to take the inevitable age question off the table. He was blunt when he said “age doesn’t register with me.”

“They’re going to see a race and they’re going to judge whether or not I have it or don’t have it,” Biden said. He meant of course the voters. 

He continued, “I respect them taking a hard look at it. I’d take a hard look at it as well. I took a hard look at it before I decided to run.”

This is the first of a two-part series examining the issue and controversy over the age question and President Joe Biden. It is an excerpt from Hutchinson’s forthcoming book “Is Biden Really Too Old? The Politics of Age and Ageism in America” (Middle Passage Press).

Biden well knew it would take more than his perfunctory dismissal of age as an issue in the campaign to make it go away. In November, it was plopped back on the table by a seemingly unlikely source. That was former President Barack Obama’s key advisor, David Axelrod, and a Democratic Party stalwart.

He caused a minor stir when he told an interviewer, “I think he has a 50-50 shot here, but no better than that, maybe a little worse. He thinks he can cheat nature here and it’s really risky.” 

Axelrod’s slap at Biden on the age issue drew a mix of criticism and agreement from a lot of Democrats.

Biden did not comment. However, there was little doubt that he was mindful of Axelrod and the repeated knocks of other Democrats

Biden though took no chances. In February 2023, he voluntarily released a medical report from November 2021 almost one year into his term that judged him as “healthy” and “vigorous” and said he was “fit to successfully execute the duties of the presidency.” The report was updated to February 2023. It found no change in his health and fitness.

Biden had more than just his positive medical report to back up his contention that an 80-year-old plus president was not at best a risk and at worst a clear and present danger. There was a virtual growth industry within the medical science industry that continually debunked many of the long-held myths about aging. One was the number of the aged. The numbers were getting larger and larger each year.

The World Health Organization, in a 2020 survey on aging globally estimated that “Between 2000 and 2050, the proportion of the world’s population over 60 years would double from about 11% to 20%.”

More studies showed that there was no inherent inevitability of total mental and physical collapse due to age. It was also possible to reverse some of the most dreaded conditions routinely associated with aging. An active lifestyle, healthy diet and engagement were vital to sustaining good health. That’s at any age.

Some studies showed it could also peel back some of the aging process. Studies cited the increasing and popular use of cognitive training techniques and regular resistance-type exercises that could sharpen cognitive abilities and loss of muscle mass and bone density.

The number of those individuals aged 60-plus in America was growing for a reason. More individuals were boosting their health by adopting a healthy diet, increasing regular exercise and staying engaged in various activities. An added factor was how individuals saw the aging process.

If an individual viewed aging as a positive rather than as something to fear and dread, studies showed that he or she was far more likely to recover faster from a severe disability that might result from falls or other physical mishaps than an individual who was scared stiff of aging.

By the start of Biden’s first term, there was a storehouse of studies that confirmed that older persons were fitter, more active and had lost little of their capacity to still function at a high level. Gerontologists even branded this the “longevity dividend.” It didn’t matter. It did not shake the perception of many that an older person had lost zest and a positive outlook on life.

That was not issue that the special counsel was tasked with determining when investigating whether Biden committed a wrongdoing in taking classified documents when he left the White House. The issue was Biden’s memory and as the special counsel indelicately put it, his “elderly state.” 

That characterization virtually assured that Biden would be permanently on the defensive during the campaign about his age and mental fitness. Almost certainly there would be more polls taken and cited to show that many Americans questioned Biden’s age and mental alertness. 

It was a dirty, vicious, and grossly unfair mix of ignorance on aging and partisan politics, but again it was a burden that Biden would have to bear.

He and others would repeatedly be asked and forced to answer, “How old is too old?”

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He also is the host of the weekly Earl Ofari Hutchinson Show from 9 to 10 a.m. Saturday on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.