Age is important. That’s why Biden’s age is his superpower

(Stephanie Scarbrough/Associated Press)

Age is important. That’s why Biden’s age is his superpower

Opinion piece, Elections 2024

Bill McKibben

February 9, 2024

Joe Biden is old. In his case, like all of us, he comes from a certain place in history


years. And that’s a big reason why his first term has been so successful: his age, often cited as the biggest obstacle to his re-election, is actually his superpower.

There was never much doubt that Third Act, the progressive organizing group for people over 60 that I helped found, would ultimately support President Biden for re-election. We are campaigning to protect our climate and our democracy, so the chances of us supporting Donald Trump, who pulled us out of the Paris climate accords and helped engineer the January 6 insurrection, were slim to none. (Nikki Haley, also a no-go, strongly supported Trump’s withdrawal in Paris.)

Biden, on the other hand, is a scrupulous little Democrat. His climate record isn’t perfect, but it has helped with jumping

to start developing renewable energy, and last month he showed real courage by standing up to Big Oil and pausing new licensing for LNG

liquefied natural gas


Yet individual policy decisions do not explain why my organization’s members are attracted to Biden. It’s not that we reflexively like older politicians; we take seriously the need to pass the torch to a new generation. But we also don’t just fire someone because he or she can collect social security. Obviously you physically lose a step as you get older, but the presidency doesn’t require you to lug couches up the White House steps. And science is increasingly discovering that aging brains make more connections, perhaps because they have more history to work with.


It’s the details of that history that really draw us in.

In the first presidential election in which Joe Biden was allowed to vote, Lyndon Johnson defeated Barry Goldwater. History remembers


His presidency was equally chaotic because of his tragic adventure in Vietnam, but in other ways it was remarkable. His Great Society echoed Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal (


which was Biden’s childhood president). Under Johnson, the federal government took ambitious steps to advance civil rights, curb poverty, attack disease, beautify human landscapes and preserve wild landscapes, and to advance science these were the Apollo years space program. Not every project worked, but many projects have endured: Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps, for example.

So Biden was socialized

in an era when the world



has taken on big goals, and this is reflected in his commitment to the first term of infrastructure reconstruction

on a large scale,

stimulating a new sustainable energy economy

with billions of dollars for solar panels and battery factories, dramatically increasing the number of people with health care and championing gun control, voting rights and reproductive rights. This tendency to grow tall

differs from its immediate predecessors.

Barack Obama first voted in the 1980 Carter-Reagan elections, a landslide for Reagan who rejected an active role for Washington in domestic policy and replaced it with the idea that government was the problem and that the free market was all solved problems. Reagan’s triumph was so complete that it changed the boundaries of our political life for a long time: when Obama was asked at the end of his term why even with sixty Democratic senators at his inauguration, his policy achievements, with the exception of Obamacare, were relatively low had been. Although modest, he cited a residual willingness to accept the political constraints inherited from the post-Reagan era. … There was probably an embrace of market solutions to a whole range of problems that were not entirely justified.

Biden simply doesn’t have that residual Reaganism; its political makeup was formed before the Reagan Revolution. He saw a booming economy in the Johnson years that narrowed the gap between rich and poor. Reagan’s economic boom benefited the wealthy. Now Biden is back in LBJ mode and the gap is starting to close for the first time in decades.

What are Trump’s political influences? Which presidency could be his model? He was first allowed to vote in 1968, when there was a tilt between Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon. He inherited none of Nixon’s few good qualities (he founded the

Environmental Protection AgencyEPA

, for example). Above all, Trump seems to have adopted Nixon’s endless sense of victimhood, not to mention his willingness to break the law in his own name.

The commitment to the principles of the New Deal and the Great Society to the idea of ​​America as a group project, and not as a series of isolated and individual efforts at personal advancement, is what we desperately need. By leaving all important decisions to the market, we have ended up on a planet with melting poles and cartoonish levels of inequality.

Johnson was of course not again



while the Vietnam War raged, he didn’t even flee. Biden seems to have remembered that too, with his outspoken decision to finally get us out of Afghanistan. Now Gaza might be the kind of inhuman quagmire that could still bring him down.

That would be a shame, because with another four years, Biden might be able to restore confidence in an America that has turned so destructively against itself.

Age is important. My cohort agrees. Why did Biden believe he could do what he did in his first term? Because he saw it happen. Let’s hope that the politicians of the future keep a close eye on his successes.

Bill McKibben is a Schumann Distinguished Scholar in Environmental Policy at Middlebury College and founder of Third Act.


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