The old man and the elections

He will be 82 when he takes office, should he be re-elected and 86 when he completes his term
File Image of USA President Joe Biden
File Image of USA President Joe Biden

President Joe Biden announced on April 25 that he will be running for a second term next year. There were indications that he wanted to do this but, as he is already 80 years of age, some observers felt that he may finally decide against doing so. The demands on a person holding the top executive office in what is still the world’s pre-eminent country are enormous both physically and mentally. Hence, some thought that he may ultimately decide against going in for what would be a grueling presidential campaign and, if he succeeds, a very draining job for a man in his eighties. Indeed, writing in these columns earlier this month (April 7) I had myself taken a cautious approach and had noted that he had not announced that he would not seek re-election. Vice-President Kamala Harris is once again Biden’s choice to be on the ticket with him as his running mate.

Biden released a video in which he made his decision known to the American people. Not surprisingly, he stressed that the struggle for liberal and democratic values had to continue because ultra-conservative forces were still wanting to take the country back to the rightist Trumpian doctrine contained in his Make America Great Again (MAGA) programmes. Biden put it thus “When I ran for president four years ago, I said we are in a battle for the soul of America. And we still are. The question we are facing is whether in the years ahead we will have more freedom or less freedom, more rights or fewer. This is not a time to be complacent. That’s why I am running for re-election”. Thus, he gave the message that he wants to ‘get the job done’.

There is no doubt that America continues to be socially and politically polarised. The ideological fault lines on domestic and global issues continue to be deep and there are no signs of the emergence of any middle ground. Indeed, the great Chinese challenge to America’s global leadership and pre-eminence is not healing the great rifts in the country’s polity. This does not mean that American power will suddenly collapse but the inability of the American political class to at least seek out a points of convergence so that a consensus can be built around issues which not only confront America but the world–such as climate change–is leading many of America’s traditional allies to look at China. The Chinese mediation between Saudi Arabia and Iran is a clear pointer and warning to the Americans but this too has led to a demonstrable coming together of the country’s political and security classes to try to keep China out of West Asia.

Thus, there is no doubt that from Biden’s viewpoint the job is not done. The question is if the American voters will take his age into consideration as they go to vote. He will be 82 when he takes office, should he be re-elected and 86 when he completes his term. Generally, American Presidents have been in the age group of 40-60 at the time when they were first elected. Indeed, Donald Trump was 70 at the time he assumed the Presidential office. Biden was 78 in January when he became President and some American political scholars thought that he would be a one-term President because of his age.

It is true that people almost all over the world are living longer than even a couple of generations ago. It is often said that the sixties are the new forties and that the eighties the new sixties. This is because of better nutritional habits in the elites of advanced countries and better medical facilities. At the same time and perhaps paradoxically there is far greater emphasis on youth and also looking youthful because of the advertisement industry. Hence, there is no certainty on how the voters will treat the Biden candidacy for a second term though current surveys indicate that a majority of the voters are not in favour of his standing for re-election.

It is noteworthy that almost all over the world there are prescribed retirement ages for officials in government service and in many countries of judges but there are no retirement ages for holders of political offices. Only minimum ages are prescribed for membership of legislative bodies and in parliamentary democracies as such membership is essential for ministerial office it follows that minimum ages are there for ministers too. In America judges of the Supreme Court are appointed for life or till such time as they themselves give up their office on account of old age. As of now it is doubtful if maximum ages for holders of political office will be mandated by members of the political classes of countries. In democracies the rationale advanced by these classes is that as candidates are elected by voters they can be rejected if the voters feel that they are too old.

As of now it appears that despite being indicted on charges of tax fraud Trump leads the Republican party field of hopeful candidates. There is no doubt that he has a faithful following and even though he is just four years younger than Biden, Trump’s age will not be a negative factor in their minds. With Biden’s announcement Trump and other Republicans and for that matter even some Democrats will have to publicly announce if they wish to contest the Presidential elections.

The parties’ primaries to select their candidates will begin in January and by March next year the situation will become clear as to who will be the main contenders for the American Presidency in 2024. The world’s eyes will become increasingly focussed on this process.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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