WASHINGTON (AP) – President-elect Joe Biden turned 78 on Friday. In two months, he will take the reins of a politically fractured nation facing the worst public health crisis in a century, high unemployment and a settling of accounts for racial injustice.
As he grapples with those issues, Biden will try to accomplish another feat: proving to Americans that age is just a number and that he is up to the challenge.
Biden will be sworn in as the oldest president in the nation’s history, displacing Ronald Reagan, who left the White House in 1989 when he was 77 years and 349 days old.
The president-elect spent his birthday in Delaware working on the government transition, which included a meeting with the two top Democrats in Congress: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer. During the closed-door portion of the meeting, Pelosi presented Biden with a white orchid, an aide said.
The age and health of both Biden and President Donald Trump – who is younger than Biden by just under four years – loomed over a race that was decided by a younger and more diverse electorate, and at a time when the nation faces many important issues.
From the get-go, Biden will be willing to show that he has the stamina to carry out his duties.
“It’s crucial that he and his team put themselves in a position early on that they can express what they want with a clarity that hasn’t always been their strength,” said Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University who has advised lawmakers. of both parties. “You have to build credibility with the American people that you are physically and mentally fit for the job.”
During the campaign, the 74-year-old Trump did not miss an opportunity to highlight Biden’s blunders and argue that the Democrat lacked the mental sharpness to lead the nation. Critics and some supporters of Biden alike worried that he was sending the wrong message about his vigor by maintaining a relatively light public agenda while Trump visited the most contested states. Biden attributed his light schedule to being wary of the pandemic.
Some of Biden’s rivals in the Democratic primaries also used age as an argument, albeit not to Trump’s venom, by raising the question of whether someone from the generation of Biden and Trump might be the right person to lead a nation that is tackles issues like climate change and racial inequality.
Brian Ott, a Missouri State University communications professor who studies presidential rhetoric, said Biden was not very impressive campaigning, but he has proven much more effective with his public comments since Election Day.
Ott said that Biden’s victory speech was moving, and that his empathy was manifested in a virtual discussion he had earlier this week with health workers. The president-elect’s experience – a combination of age and nearly 50 years in politics – is conveyed more clearly through the prism of governing than in the chaos of the campaign, he said.
“Government rhetoric, unlike campaign rhetoric, is collaborative rather than confrontational,” Ott said.
Biden’s relatively old age also places a premium on the quality of his staff, Baker said. The election of Senator Kamala Harris, almost 20 years younger than him, as his running mate is an acknowledgment of his age problem. Biden has described himself as a transitional president, but has not ruled out running for a second term.
“She has done a good job of letting it be known from day one that she is ready to take the job,” said Baker. “She has to be in the images that come out of the White House. They also have to, in terms of their messages, highlight their inclusion in any important issue or debate that is taking place in the White House. “
Biden, in a September interview with CNN, promised to be “totally transparent” about all facets of his health if elected, but has not said how he will do it.
The campaign has argued that Biden is not your average septuagenarian.
His physician, Dr. Kevin O’Connor, in a medical report released by the campaign last December, described Biden as “healthy, vigorous … capable of successfully executing the duties of the Presidency, including those of chief executive officer. , head of state and commander in chief ”.
In 1988, Biden suffered two life-threatening brain aneurysms, an experience that he wrote in his memoirs made him the “kind of man I want to be.” O’Connor further noted in his report that the president-elect has an irregular heartbeat, but has not required any medication or other treatment. His gallbladder was also removed in 2003.
In an article published in September by a group of researchers in the Journal on Active Aging, it was concluded that both Biden and Trump do not age like other people and that they are likely to outlive their American contemporaries and maintain their health beyond that. end of the next presidential term.