It’s a question that has Democrats scratching their heads — and sometimes biting their lips: Should President Biden, who just turned 80, seek reelection in 2024, by which time he will be nearly 82?
My early summer assumption was that after the midterms and a half-term that had been impressive in some ways but disappointing in others, Biden would take stock and then declare he wouldn’t seek reelection.
Then events intervened. The administration got its long-stalled climate and health care legislation, and with that victory, Biden’s legislative record improved appreciably. After voters went to the polls, the Democrats held the Senate — and stayed close enough in the House that it seemed like a near-victory.
Whereupon Biden commenced sounding like he does indeed intend to run again. At 82. Which means he would finish a second term at 86 if he won.
It’s highly unusual, though not unheard of, for national leaders in important democracies to be that long in the tooth. William Gladstone, Britain’s “old man in a hurry,” served four times as the premier of Britain, forming his last government at 82. He left power at 84, in 1894, and died at 88.
Seventy-three when Parliament chose him as chancellor of West Germany, Konrad Adenauer held that post until 1963, by which time he was 87. He died at 91.
Parliament elected Sandro Pertini president of Italy at 81 in 1978, a job he held for the next seven years. He died at 91. Giorgio Napolitano was elevated to that post at 80 and reelected at 87, in 2013, whereupon he served for another two years. He is now 97.
But other senior-citizen statesmen were relinquishing their national leadership roles near or at Biden’s current age. One was Charles de Gaulle, who resigned as president of France at 79. Another was Winston Churchill, who stepped down as prime minister of the United Kingdom at 80.
What do other politicians of Biden’s rough vintage think?
I asked Bill Delahunt, former Norfolk County district attorney and former US representative from the 10th District, now 81. It’s a decision only Biden can make, Delahunt said.
“It’s easy to have an opinion from the outside,” noted Delahunt. Maybe so, but it’s hard to get Delahunt to disclose what his opinion might be.
“It’s going to be a very personal decision,” he said. “Does he feel that he has the energy? Can he weather the incredible demands that come with being president? He is going to have to make that decision with the feedback he gets from people.”
So what would Delahunt’s feedback be, were Biden to ask? “I’d say, ‘That is a question only you can answer,’ ” he replied, joking that that sidestep “shows I haven’t lost my fastball.”
I tried it another way. If Delahunt were in Biden’s shoes, feeling the way he does now and facing the same decision, would he run again in 2024? “I wouldn’t do it, no,” he said. “I am just happy to get up in the morning and do my walk.”
Still, he noted that different people have very different energy levels and capabilities as they age. You have normal people “and then you have Frank Bellotti,” he said, referring to his longtime friend, the legendary former Massachusetts attorney general.
As it happened, I had just reached the 99-year-old Bellotti. At work. We chatted for a few minutes about his 1990 gubernatorial candidacy, back when he was 67. When some in the press corps had wondered if he was too old to be governor.
So what does Bellotti think about the Biden question?
“It depends if he’s in good shape and knows what the hell he’s doing,” Bellotti replied. “But I’m not really sure he does.”
It’s not so much Biden’s age as it is his worry that Biden is too much a captive of the progressives, said Bellotti, himself a longtime liberal. Thus Bellotti would prefer to see Biden call it a day “if there was somebody else” — but his survey of the Democratic ranks doesn’t bring an obvious person to mind.
If Biden does decide to run again, the ultimate decision about reelecting him will, of course, be up to the voters. So let me put this to you, readers:
Should Biden run again or is it time for him to call it quits? Why? Regardless of your view on that matter, would you vote for him if he were the Democratic nominee in 2024? Please e-mail me your thoughts. And if you’d like to be quoted in a future column on this subject, tell me your full name, town or region of residence, what you do or did for work, and your party affiliation.
Oh yes, and of course, your age.