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EDITORIAL

The reasons to look beyond Joe Biden’s age

The oldest president in the nation’s history has accomplished a great deal and deserves a second term. And if Donald Trump is his opponent, the choice is even clearer.

President Biden spoke at the Washington Hilton in Washington, D.C., April 25.JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

The announcement was greeted by snickering on the right, skepticism on the left, and worries everywhere about his mental acuity and physical stamina. Welcome to President Biden’s reelection campaign, which formally kicked off via video on Tuesday.

“Freedom,” the president intoned at the top of the glossy three-minute spot, which opened with tear gas-blurred images of the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the US Capitol. “That’s been the work of my first term. To fight for our democracy.”

What the video does not mention is the president’s advanced age, which is 80. He is the oldest president in US history and would be 86 at the end of a second term. By significant margins, most voters, including Democrats, do not think he should run again, citing age as a major reason.

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Those concerns are valid, and the president would do well to address them. The stresses of governing from the Oval Office while running a national campaign are unimaginably arduous, even for the young. Biden needs to be transparent about his mental and physical health. And he should not stint on his public appearances so that voters and the news media have ample opportunities to assess his condition.

But for all the worries, there are compelling arguments for why the president deserves a second term and for why, despite his years, he seems able to continue leading the country.

Start with the accomplishments of his first three years. Within four months of taking office, he signed a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill that provided much-needed relief to families and businesses hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic, expanded subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, and increased tax credits for families with children.

Just seven months later, he signed a $1 trillion infrastructure bill that is helping deliver not just jobs, but also vital work on roads, bridges, water, and sewer systems — the very things Donald Trump repeatedly promised as president but somehow never could push through a Congress controlled by his own party.

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Last summer, with Biden’s support, Congress provided billions more to spur the domestic manufacture of microchips, critical components in nearly all electronic devices and advanced weaponry. The measure received bipartisan support because it both expands jobs and strengthens the nation’s chip industry in its competition with Chinese companies.

On gun safety, Biden signed legislation expanding background checks, banning romantic partners convicted of domestic abuse from owning a gun, and easing law enforcement’s ability to take guns from people deemed dangerous to themselves or others. It was the most significant gun legislation passed in 30 years.

And even on immigration, the hardest of many hard issues in Washington these days, the Biden administration has used temporary humanitarian programs to allow what The New York Times said could be “the largest expansion of legal immigration in decades.” In the face of unwavering Republican gridlock, the president’s limited approach has brought some relief to migrants fleeing conflict, famine, and oppression.

On virtually all of these policies, progressives have complained about the president’s lack of boldness, while conservatives have bemoaned government overreach and overspending that they say has fueled inflation.

But whatever one thinks of the policies, it is hard to escape one fact: Someone was steering the ship of state that enacted them. And that someone was Joe Biden.

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The president’s hand is perhaps even more clearly on the tiller of foreign policy. Republicans assert that hand was abysmally shaky in his handling of the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 and the stunningly rapid collapse of the US-backed government to the advancing Taliban. This is to some extent true. But in the end, the withdrawal — a promise made but not fulfilled by both Barack Obama and Trump — was completed and the nation’s long engagement in a hopeless war ended. This is precisely what the American public said it wanted.

Far less shaky has been Biden’s handling of the West’s response to Russia’s war against Ukraine, where he has supported billions in military aid to the outgunned Ukrainian forces. Amid nuclear threats from President Vladimir Putin of Russia, Biden has carefully walked the line between assisting Ukraine while avoiding US military actions that could escalate the war into Europe. Along the way, Biden has strengthened the Atlantic alliance that Trump did so much to weaken.

So where does the nation stand? Inflation remains stubbornly above ideal levels, but it is also down substantially from last year’s peak. Unemployment, meanwhile, remains near historic lows, including for people of color. And while that low unemployment has come with labor shortages in certain sectors, it has also meant lower-wage workers have been able to command higher pay. Are there warning signs of recession on the horizon? Of course there are. But the possibility of economic growth is also very real.

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Biden would seem to face a daunting road to a second term, with his approval rating hovering around 40 percent, little different from Trump’s during the third year of his presidency. But it is worth noting that Biden’s rating is also similar to where Obama and Ronald Reagan stood in the polls just before they ran for reelection. Both won.

Elections, after all, do not entail choosing between a candidate and an ideal. They are competitions between fallible human beings, with all their individual strengths and weakness, ideas and passions, personalities and values on perpetual display. If that candidate is Donald Trump, which seems very likely, his values are clear: narcissism, authoritarianism, mean-spiritedness. The choice for voters should be equally clear.


Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.