A month ago, I asked readers for their take on the matter President Biden and his family will be discussing over the holidays: Should he seek a second term in 2024, a year in which he will turn 82?
Biden, who celebrated his 80th birthday in November, is already the oldest person elected as US president and the oldest to serve in the post. If successful in a quest for a second term, he would be president into his mid-80s, leaving office two months after his 86th birthday.
Thank you to the scores of readers who took the time to respond, many with thoughtful notes about their own experience with aging.
Where the chips and quips fell
Responses landed in three basic categories. The largest was those who emphatically felt that Biden should not run. Roughly half of the 200-plus who e-mailed me fell into that category. By contrast, only about a quarter were enthusiastic about the idea of him seeking reelection. An equal share were ambivalent: They don’t really want the octogenarian incumbent to run again but emphasized they would certainly or probably vote for him if he were the Democratic nominee in 2024.
This group of respondents is self-chosen rather than randomly selected. As such, it shouldn’t be mistaken for a larger snapshot of public opinion.
Go, Joe, go!
“President Biden may well be aging, but his clear-headed thinking, his calm in the storm, and his measured words and actions speak volumes to his credibility as the leader of our nation,” wrote Nancy Savage, 66, a Democrat of Acton. “I trust him.”
“I’d vote for him again in a heartbeat,” declared Richard Prone, 74, a retired Amtrak locomotive engineer and independent from the South Shore. “His extemporaneous speech is impressive, despite the GOP’s initial effort to play the stuttering card.”
The president’s fans pointed to the bipartisan infrastructure law, the climate and health care legislation, and the COVID relief package as evidence of an impressive overall record. With the exception of the Afghanistan debacle, they also praised him for his conduct of foreign policy.
No, Joe, no!
Some of those who don’t want Biden to run were conservatives who blamed him for every problem under this sun and several that plague various other dwarf stars around the cosmos. Yet much of the no sentiment came from those who had voted for Biden either enthusiastically in 2020 or as a way to oust Donald Trump from the White House but feel that one’s mid-80s is simply too old for the demands of the presidency.
“I can’t imagine any normal person who has witnessed his actions in the past two years could actually vote him in again,” wrote Susan Fiorello, 71, a former hair salon owner from Lynnfield and erstwhile Democrat turned Republican. Citing “the high cost of food and housing,” drugs and migrants “pouring across our border,” and “homelessness and violence out of control,” Fiorello declared Biden “incapable of making any changes for the good of the American people.” She concluded: “I cringe every time I see him wandering around looking disoriented and I can’t see him surviving a second term.”
“No, no, no, no, no!” wrote Rick Blum, 74, a retired marketing manager and independent from Bedford. “It’s time for good ol’ Joe to make a truly noble decision to not run again and open the field to a new generation of Democrats. Maybe there’s a budding Obama among them. We won’t know unless Joe opts for greener pastures.”
“Biden should NOT run again,” declared Laura Harrington, 48, a librarian from Lowell and a lifelong Democrat. “Like Nancy Pelosi, he should step aside to allow younger candidates an opportunity.”
“If the president were to be reelected and then begin to decline mentally and physically as he approached his mid-80s, the risk to the country would be enormous,” wrote Edward Trainor, 60, an independent and software sales team leader from New Hampshire’s Bedford. “Moreover, if he were to become incapacitated or die, our enemies could pounce on the inevitable political disruption that would bring.”
“Although I voted for Biden, think he has done a good job, and respect him … it’s simply time to pass the torch on,” wrote the Rev. Susan Milnor, 65, a Democrat who lives in Freeport, Maine, and works in Beverly, Mass.
Advice from his elders
A number of readers who have already experienced years four score and more warned that no matter how Biden feels right now, significant changes are very likely to come in his 80s.
“Stuff happens. 2024 is the time to quit,” wrote Mark Hopkins, 90, a retired advertising executive and independent from Concord. “When I was 80, I never anticipated the major surgery at 82 that incapacitated me for two months. Or being ambulanced to the ER at 83 with a life-threatening pulmonary embolism. Or the ongoing minor memory lapses.”
“With regret, for me the answer is a clear no,” wrote 85-year-old Dorrie Kehoe, a retired educator and Democrat, also from Concord. “I know that I am not the same person with the same mental and physical responses that I had even five to 10 years ago.”
Former Newton alderman John Stewart, a Democrat of 90, wrote to say that though he had played senior basketball and softball into his 80s, based on his experiences and those of similarly aged teammates and friends, “I believe quite firmly that the odds are not good of a person of Biden’s age remaining totally free of both cognitive and physical problems until age 86.” He concluded: “Why should the nation take that chance?”
That sentiment wasn’t universal among Biden’s elders, however.
“His age should not be a factor as long as he continues to be mentally alert and physically healthy,” wrote William Minichiello, a Natick Democrat and clinical psychologist who is still seeing patients at 87.
Sages on ages
A variety of, well, more junior seniors insisted judgments on capacity should be specific to the individual.
“There are people who are fit and capable at 80-90 and those who become unfit in their 50s and 60s,” wrote retired surgeon Rodney Taylor, 76, an independent from Grantham, N.H. “Currently, Biden is every bit as capable to be POTUS as [Ronald] Reagan or the Bushes.”
“The president is healthy and has achieved great success against many odds in his first term,” averred Anne Bromer, 80, a Democrat who owns a rare-book shop in Back Bay. “I say, ‘Go Joe — and may you continue to break down the barriers of ageism!’ ”
Added Elizabeth Delaney, 77, a Democrat and retired accountant from Arlington: “Yes, he is old, but who else could have assembled the individuals and teams to address the myriad crises, foreseen and unforeseen? Yes, he stutters when tired, or appears to struggle for the right word, and sometimes misspeaks, but he is willing and able to correct. He has resilience, equanimity, and dignity.”
But while he agreed that individuals age differently, Dr. Edward Hoffer, a 79-year-old cardiologist and registered independent from Marion who works part time at Mass General’s Laboratory of Computer Science, noted that there are limits to that truism.
“No one stays physically and mentally fit forever,” he wrote. “Biden has done a very good job so far both domestically and abroad, but I feel he should not run again.”
Anti-octogenarians for Biden
And then there are those who supported Biden in 2020 and were grateful to him for vanquishing Trump, but now want a younger, more charismatic figure — but don’t see anyone who fits the electoral bill.
Jim McGraw, 64, a retired IT manager from Bristol, R.I., and an independent, offered this succinct summation: “My first preference is for him and Trump not to run, but since the big fraud is running and I don’t see any good Democratic alternatives, then yes, he should run.”
“I hope he decides not to run this time, but I’m not sure who would step into that void,” wrote Mark Voelkel, 70, an independent from Marshfield and former sales manager who thinks Biden has done “a great job.” Voelkel said he would back him over Trump or Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, but might vote Republican if, say, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu were the GOP nominee.
Laments (and consolations) of the labyrinth
So where, exactly, do Democrats find themselves? If Biden opts not to run again and says so early next year, they are left with a leader who is a lame duck and with no front-runner for their 2024 nominee. Yet there would be ample time for aspirants to prove their mettle. It is in the primary process, after all, that potential presidents develop national stature.
If Biden does run again, as he has repeatedly suggested he will, the odds are he will emerge as the nominee even if challenged. That will leave the Democrats with not just the oldest nominee ever, but one whose job rating remains stubbornly underwater.
Still, Democrats can at least take solace in this: Their situation is certainly preferable to that which besets the GOP. Republicans are faced with another candidacy by a scandal- and investigation-plagued former president and attempted election subverter, one who has proved an albatross in the last three election cycles, but who retains a strong grip on his MAGA base and refuses to cede the stage.
Trump, who turns 78 in 2024, would be the oldest major-party nominee were it not for Biden. It tells us something about the hurdles the GOP faces that worries about age are one of the lesser of his many political problems.
Scot Lehigh is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.