Biden’s fellow seniors have advice for the 81-year-old president: Lose the script, project your voice


Biden’s fellow seniors have advice for the 81-year-old president: Lose the script, project your voice

Elections 2024, California politics

Mark Z. Barabak

Dec. 22, 2023

For those who doubt Joe Biden’s ability to become president, Herb Klar has a suggestion: check out his neighborhood.

“They don’t come to Rossmoor to see all the eight-year-olds … and see how vibrant and smart and capable we all are,” said Klar, 76, a retired clinical social worker, who wore a Golden State Warriors hoodie on a chilly afternoon at the east side of San Francisco Bay.

Old age, he said, “is seen as a kind of capriciousness.”

Biden is the oldest president in American history, making every day in office a milestone of sorts. He is trying something that has never been tried before: winning re-election for a second term that would end when he is 86 years old.

The prospect scares Republicans. It’s also causing major stomach upsets among Biden’s fellow Democrats.

“So many people start to lose some of their cognitive skills as they get into their 80s,” says Lee Herschman, who happens to be 86 and spent her career in the entertainment and recording industries. “That’s exactly what happens.”

But Herschman and others among Biden’s peers, people who understand the challenges of aging better than most, say they see no sign that the president is hampered or unfit for office.

“He knows the facts. He knows the players. He has all the data,” said Katha Hartley, 83, who still works as a business consultant. “And when you compare that to the person who may be running against him, who may also be in jail later, there’s not even a comparison.”

Hartley and fourteen others, ranging in age from 68 to 92, recently gathered at a clubhouse in their wooded 55-and-older community to discuss Biden, politics and what it’s like to watch people progress in their years .

They all belong to the Rossmoor Democrats, which claims 1,000 members, making it the largest Democratic club in the country. Not surprisingly, each of them supports the president’s re-election. (“A no-brainer,” someone shouted.)


But Biden was not their unanimous choice for the party’s 2020 nomination. Some favored Elizabeth Warren, others Amy Klobuchar, Michael R. Bloomberg or Bernie Sanders before Biden emerged from the crowded field.

And not all agreed with Biden’s decision to seek a second term.

Ten out of fifteen said they would have preferred him to stand aside in favor of someone else in 2024; Gavin Newsom, Klobuchar, Warren, Pete Buttigieg and JB Pritzker and Gretchen Whitmer, the governors of Illinois and Michigan respectively, were all mentioned.

It’s not something Biden has done or failed to do. Some called him the most successful and influential president since Franklin D. Roosevelt, citing, among other things, the passage of a massive infrastructure bill and efforts to boost technology and rebuild the nation’s industrial base.

“He has been politically brilliant when it comes to domestic issues,” said 71-year-old Rose Holmes, who worked as a physiotherapist. “I think he has been brilliant on the international stage in terms of how he has managed to put NATO back together” and unite countries to support Ukraine.

There aren’t even that many doubts about Biden’s cognition or physical endurance. Rather, it is a concern about how


Observing Biden.

In short, his eligibility.

Steve Lazar believes the president’s mind is “as solid as a rock.” But the 85-year-old who had two careers, one as a popcorn distributor, the second as a commercial real estate agent, said that doesn’t always come across.

“Being agile at that age and being able to project his power is not going to be easy,” Lazar said.

“This is a media-driven age,” noted Jack Padley, 79, a retired state worker. “And he’s no Jack Kennedy when it comes to getting a message across.”

More than left

half of the fifteen members were concerned about whether Biden would even survive a second term.


“He’s old,” says Mary Taylor, a business consultant on diversity and equality issues who, at 68, was the youngest of the group. ‘Just like all of us. Realistically, something could happen.”

“Any one of us could fall over at any moment,” came another voice, drawing murmurs of agreement.

Vice President Kamala Harris, who would intervene if anything happened to Biden, caused a mixture of sympathy and consternation.

Not about her ability to take over the presidency, but rather about how she would be treated as a Black woman and Asian American if she did.

Would Republicans in Congress “push her back just to prove her incompetence?” Hartley wondered. “I think there would be a bias against her from the beginning and it just drives me crazy.”

“It has nothing to do with her competency,” said Cassie Tzur, 80, a retired social worker. “I think she’s sharp.”

But, she continued, ‘despite our feminist efforts in the 1970s and 1980s and earlier, we still live in a racist and sexist society and I think it would be skimmed. Look what they did to Obama and his wife. It was appalling how she was treated and I fear the same thing could happen.”

There was no shortage of advice around the rectangular table, most of it about how Biden could appear without looking, well, so old.

Raise and project your voice, he was instructed, so that it doesn’t sound so papery. Throw away the cue cards and speak more from the heart, which Biden clearly prefers.

Stop jogging to the stage, which, the deal was, only makes him look awkward and stiff.

“I know the message they’re trying to give you, but I don’t think he’s that good of a messenger,” said Joyce Brock, owner of two clothing stores in the Los Angeles area, in the Valley and near LAX. At the age of 92, she was the oldest member of the group.

“They should have someone else like them [Arnold] Schwarzenegger says: ‘He’s in great shape.’ “Let someone else talk about it instead of him,” Brock suggested. “He doesn’t look good.”

Appearance aside, the consensus was that age is nothing Biden should be ashamed of. It can even be virtual.

It is not the case that he only entered politics at the age of 81. “He has a wealth of knowledge that he brings,” Taylor said, as heads nodded around the table.

Now Biden just needs to convince the rest of the country.


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