The Overlooked Truths About Biden’s Age

In terms of optics and in terms of energy, I wish President Biden were younger. There’s no point in pretending otherwise. And from the casual conversations all around me and the formal polling of voters, I know I’m in robust company. A great many Americans consider his age unideal, and that belief is why there’s no wishing away the focus on it. The swell of attention to it over the past few months is more beginning than end. There are tsunamis yet to come.

Even so, aspects of the subject actually get too little consideration, starting with this crushingly obvious and yet frequently overlooked fact: The presidency isn’t a solo mission. Not even close. It’s a team effort, and the administration that a president puts together matters much, much more than his brawn or his brio.

To listen to the fretting over how many hours a day Biden can vigorously work, how many speeches he can authoritatively deliver and how many miles he can comfortably travel is to get the sense that he’s independently on the hook for the nation’s welfare. That he’s more action figure than decision maker. That, um, he alone can fix it. That he shoulders all the responsibility.

But he’s not Atlas; he’s POTUS. And the president of the United States is only as good as the advisers around him, whose selection reflects presidential judgment, not stamina.

We acknowledge as much when we discuss how a president might fill or has filled his cabinet. We recognize that many vital decisions are made — and that most important policies are realized — outside of the Oval Office.

But that recognition weirdly dissipates when we start tallying Biden’s birthdays. We attach as much weight to digits as to discernment, or we imply that the former wipes out the latter. Yes, age can erode judgment — if a person’s cognitive health is in marked and clear decline. But Biden’s situation is more cloudy than clear, and nothing about it suggests to me that he’d treat governing as cavalierly as Donald Trump would (and did) or assemble a team as ragtag as Trump’s — or, for that matter, Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s.

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