Some years ago, I worked out with Joe Biden. He lifted weights while I pedaled a stationary bike, and I can report that the vice president of the United States, if he has kept up his exercise regimen, should be in splendid shape. Still, he is now 72, and if he runs for president, as he is now considering doing, he will be one of the oldest people to have done so — certainly, if luck should have it, the oldest to be elected. Ronald Reagan, move over.
Biden is now considering what he has always been considering — running for the White House. We have it on the word of Maureen Dowd of the New York Times that Biden was urged to seek the presidency by his dying son, Beau, as well as by other members of his family. Beau Biden died in May. Meetings have been held and things are being thought over.
By now we know of Hillary Clinton what we have always known about Hillary Clinton: She’s a poor politician. By now we know also what we have always known about Joe Biden: He’s a gifted politician. He’s garrulous (to say the least), in his element on the stump, not afraid of the media and prone to gaffes, such as in 2007, when he described Barack Obama as “articulate.”
My workout session with Biden occurred about a decade ago at the splendid Italian resort of Villa d’Este on Lake Como, where we both were attending a conference. Biden and his wife, Jill, flew in with John McCain and his sidekick, Lindsey Graham. We all had a grand time. You cannot ask for better company than Biden, McCain and Graham. They know how to laugh.
Irony stalks Joe Biden. In 1988, he ran for president as a tribune of youth. He was determined to be the youngest president since John F. Kennedy. Earlier, he had become a very young United States senator, having been elected when he was only 29. Now, if he runs for the White House and succeeds, he will be 74 when he raises his right hand and 78 at the end of his first term. (Hillary Clinton, in contrast, would only be 69 if she becomes the second Clinton president.)
Age, which used to be Biden’s advantage, is now his burden. He cannot be the candidate of youth, the fresh new face the Democratic Party so sorely needs. Compared with some of the Republicans, he’s an old man. Jeb Bush is 62, Scott Walker is 47, and Marco Rubio is a mere 44. These are the ages of most presidents. (Kennedy remains the youngest elected president at 43; Obama was 47.)
Moreover, Biden is burdened by his past — the lamentable (but pardonable) plagiarism of a speech given by the British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock as well as the even more lamentable and still troubling alteration of his family history to fit the speech. More pertinently, Biden cannot be the Democratic left’s idea of the anti-Hillary. As a senator, he voted for the war in Iraq — a cardinal sin — although to his credit he soon had second thoughts. He also denounced the Serbian strongman — and war criminal — Slobodan Milosevic and urged NATO to end the ethnic cleansing. He has the gift of moral indignation.
Alas, the Democratic left makes no distinction between wars for colonial booty and humanitarian interventions and so, undoubtedly, Biden will be criticized for a soft heart and an itchy finger. He will not deflate the Bernie Sanders balloon. (Sanders, incidentally, is almost 74, but ideologically remains an adolescent.)
I am two years older than Biden. I feel just great. I bike almost every day, reverting to the stationary bike when weather forces me indoors. I have plenty of energy, and I insist I have the wisdom that comes with age. But I am stiff in the mornings and misplaced some height along the way, and I find myself going to memorial services more and more. I take my pills, but from here on out, it’s luck that matters most.
Biden has been the luckiest of men and also the unluckiest. He lost his first wife and 1-year-old daughter in a horrible car accident a few weeks after he was elected to the Senate, and then his son this year to cancer. He has the bounce and bonhomie that’s associated with choice Irish genes and a glittering oversized smile that dazzles. But he has already run for president twice. That’s enough for a man of any age.
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