13 July 2022
Skipping a Generation
by J.R. Thomas
We mustn’t call him “Poor Old Joe”, but it’s not going well. One of the golden rules of politics is that if you are going to do a little stunt in the public eye to prove how cool or fit or in tune with the people you are, it’s best not to get stuck in mid-air on a zip wire, fall off your bike within the first few yards, or make rude remarks about old ladies with your microphone on (Boris; Joe; and Gordon Brown respectively)
To be fair, Boris made it a wonderful joke, and Joe got back on his bike and rode on, a little nervously, and Gordon went back to apologise in person (the lady was not impressed, sad to say). But alas for Joe, the damage is done. Even his own party has noticed his age now, and in the smoke filled rooms of Democrat king making (well, nowadays no doubt fitted with quinoa bars and no-sugar no-alcohol beverage dispensers, strictly no smoking) the vigorous plotting and back-stabbing is underway. Joe, whenever asked, says that subject to his health being good, he will be running again in 2024, to keep him busy until age 86. His press secretary when questioned on this says in a jolly way that the President is in great health and doing a great job; all is great!
Alas, that is not the opinion in those quinoa filled rooms. Joe was a compromise and stopgap whilst a stronger and more inspirational candidate emerged – no, not you Hillary – though nobody said such things in public. The party realises that Joe is most unlikely to win another term, and even if he ran against an exceptionally divisive GOP candidate – you know who we mean – he is really no longer up to a long campaign, or to running an administration if he won. That is not ageist – older men than he have served as leaders (although as a general rule they have tended to be dictators, which removes some of the stress of the job). And, equally to the point, he has not proved to be a very good President. In fact, he is starting to make Mr Trump look a whirlwind of competence and efficiency.
Now the dam has broken and many folk are saying what they have been thinking; Joe must go. Increasingly the approaching mid-terms, November this year, look like a referendum on Joe’s urge to run in ’24, a referendum which seems likely to cost the Democrat’s control of both houses of Congress. Mr Biden is of course fairly secure in the day job until 2024 – only ill-health or unexpected events would force his resignation before his term of office expires. And in that he is helped by the continuing unpopularity of his Vice President, Kamala Harris, who, shall we say, has not seized the opportunity offered by her status.
Even the New York Times, a newspaper whose presses swoon at the word Democrat and spit flames at the whisper of Trump, is having doubts now; it commissioned a poll on voter’s thoughts on candidates for the next Presidential election. 68% said they did not want it to be Mr Biden, although most respondents (these are all denominations of voters, not just Democrats) were polite enough not to cite the President’s mental alertness – just that he will be too old (presumably the voters worry about the White House stairs). Only 33% thought Joe is doing a good job, which does suggest it is time for change. There was a single ray of light in this gloom for Camp Biden, which is that if the Republican candidate turns out to be one Donald Trump, then Mr Biden would win.
Delivery is a big problem for Mr Biden. The problems of southwestern immigration continues, which, even though he moved the task of finding solutions to Kamala, remains the President’s responsibility. The economy is tail-spinning downwards, and the budget deficit is tornado-ing upwards; there is little evidence that anybody in the Biden administration has any form of grip on this. Civil unrest is smouldering away and there is a real threat of violent confrontation this summer. The President’s response to the wave of shooting tragedies has been incredibly weak. The Democrat activists are furious about the Supreme Court overturning Roe vs Wade and remitting abortion law back to the individual states; Joe says he is furious too but other than muttering about reform of the Court has done nothing. The obvious solution to both these latter conundrums is to bring forward legislation in Congress, for much tighter gun ownership laws and to remit control of abortion to the federal state. He would probably lose, but it would be a bold step that would enhance his standing among most Democrats and some Republicans. Sometimes Joe, you just have to stand up for what you believe.
But Joe does not like to be in the losing boat. America is still in many ways a very conservative society – and especially among the hispanic and black communities. Opinion polls suggest a clear majority want legal abortion, and a smaller majority, tighter gun controls. That seems not to be reflected in Congress and even pollsters caution that conservative thinkers are less likely to give truthful responses to pollsters, but here seem to be two battles where Joe could become a hero and retire in glory. But there is a political risk; and Joe is not good at political risks.
And here we come to an interesting facet of modern American politics. Most leading politicians are old; Mr B is 79; Mr T is 76, Nancy Pelosi (Speaker of the House) 82, Mitch McConnell (Republican Senate leader) 80, Chuck Schumer (Democrat Senate leader) a mere 71. These are perhaps the most powerful figures in legislative politics and they are all well into retirement age. The average age of a Senator is 64 (of a citizen, 38). Neither Hillary Clinton, 74, or Bernie Sanders, 81, have ruled out running again and we would rudely say, both of them are more up to the job than Joe, so don’t rule them out. But what the quinoa types are thinking is that the time has come to select a younger candidate, to move to the next generation or even the next but one. That in itself ought to have electoral appeal, a sort of Kennedy manoeuvre, or Obama move, to repolish themselves as the voice of youth, energy and new ideas and fizz and hipness – and should deal with any Trump threat.
The irony of course is that the Republicans are no doubt pondering the same strategy. A younger candidate against Old Joe would sweep the slate. Mr Trump, whilst in good health – must be all those takeaways and burgers – will be 78 by November 2024. He will look like yesterday’s man against a young Democrat. But a younger successful Republican, with a record of success as a state Governor or in Congress, would have real voter appeal.
So it is quite possible that the age profile of senior American politicians will soon change dramatically. Both parties may well move their leaderships to the next generation. Will that change things? Yes; at least it will move politics on from the 1960’s mindset to which it has regressed after the golden Reagan years. That could make for radical change, possibly in a conservative direction. And it should create some aggressive originality in thinking, and that cannot but be an improvement on the current state of things.