America has had three presidents born in the summer of 1946: Donald Trump in June, George W. Bush in July and Bill Clinton in August. It’s kind of jarring to think that Bush and Clinton took office decades ago, yet are still younger than Trump by a couple of months. It’s a reminder of just how old Trump is. He was sworn in at age 70 — the oldest first-term president ever.
Now consider that Joe Biden, if elected this fall, would be far older than that — 78 — on Inauguration Day. No sitting president has ever been 78, period, and yet that’s how old Biden would be on Day 1.
After a thorough exam last fall, Biden’s doctor released a comprehensive report saying the former vice president is a “healthy, vigorous, 77-year-old male, who is fit to successfully execute the duties of the presidency.”
Even so, there are signs that Biden has slowed down, and those who like him — and I do — should acknowledge that his age is a legitimate issue. And it’s one that adds weight to a decision he’ll soon have to make: who his running mate will be. A transition team is also quietly weighing potential cabinet picks.
Calm and soothing
After three years of chaos and instability on Trump’s watch — far heavier turnover than any president in recent memory, and numerous cabinet officials and aides ensnared in assorted sleaze and scandal — Biden wants to right the helm and project a calm, steady-as-she goes stability. That’s a tall order given what we’re going through now: a killer pandemic and an economic collapse to rival (if not exceed) the Great Depression.
It helps that Biden has been there before. Consider the mess he and Barack Obama inherited in 2009. Unlike with Trump, there’s no need for on-the-job training. The irony is that during his dark inaugural address in 2017, Trump spoke of an “American carnage” that he would put an end to, but it looks as if it’s his successor who will be tasked with cleaning up the mess. As Yogi Berra said: It’s déjà vu all over again.
Biden has already announced that he will pick a woman to be his running mate. That’s fine, as long as he doesn’t pick a woman simply because she is a woman. Two-thirds of Democrats say, according to recent Politico/Morning Consult survey, that heavy-duty legislative and governing experience is more important than gender or race.
In other words, someone who could assume the presidency at a moment’s notice, if it came to that, and hit the ground running. Plenty of women on Biden’s shortlist have the legislative skills — Sens. Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren, for example — while others have governing skills, notably Gretchen Whitmer. The Michigan governor’s stock has risen thanks to her coronavirus battles with Trump.
Restore America’s standing
An able running mate is only one issue.
Biden, the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, understands that America’s standing in the world has plunged since 2017. The nonpartisan Pew Research Center’s findings — based on surveys in 32 countries — lays the blame for this squarely at Trump’s feet.
Biden’s picks for the State and Defense departments would be tasked with helping to reverse this slide. In contrast to Trump, a transactional what-have-you-done-for-me-lately president, Biden understands that long-term security can be better enhanced by reaffirming America’s commitment to NATO — which has helped keep the peace in Europe for three-quarters of a century — and ties with loyal friends like South Korea. Trump has denigrated these allies, not understanding that this undercuts our own security.
By the way, you know how Trump claims he’s responsible for the increase in NATO spending? That began back in 2014, when Trump was hosting “Celebrity Apprentice.”
Greatness often follows mediocrity
Mediocre presidents who failed to solve big problems or made them worse have sometimes been followed by men who did fix those problems and thus went down in history as truly great leaders.
James Buchanan did nothing to avert the Civil War (though perhaps no one could). Herbert Hoover couldn’t fix the Great Depression. They were succeeded by Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt.
Trump has the mediocre part down pat. But this hardly means that Biden, should he succeed him, would be great. He would, however, be calm, stable and reassuring to both the American people and longtime U.S. allies, while he works to restore a shattered economy and a tarnished global reputation. In this diminished era, that, for now, may be good enough.
Originally Published on MarketWatch
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