The 80-year-old American president is obviously seeking a second term. His dangerous trip to Ukraine shows that he sees the fight for democracy as his life’s work.
The man has achieved more in his lifetime than he probably expected. On the long President’s Day weekend, he could certainly have taken the bicycles out of the garage of his beach house and pedaled through Cape Henlopen State Park in the beautiful weather with his wife. Or he could have visited his seven grandchildren. Or he could have played with his German shepherds Major and Commander in the garden of his Wilmington property.
Instead, after a date night with his wife, Jill, at a fancy Italian restaurant in Washington’s Bloomingdale neighborhood, Joe Biden was brought from the White House to Andrews Air Force Base Saturday night where he boarded Air Force One at around four in the morning for an unprecedented and highly risky trip across the Atlantic to Kyiv. American presidents have flown secretly into warzones on occasion. But never to a country where America has no troop presence.
A handful of advisers planned the commando action for months with the utmost secrecy and indicated the dangers. However, Biden consciously took the risk upon himself, according to the White House. “And this visit today was really an effort […] to show and not just tell that we will continue to stand up and stand strong and that we will do so, as I said, for as long as it takes,” said National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, who accompanied the president on the mission.
Biden turned 80 just last November. However, the president seems more spirited than ever. “But we know our work is not done,” he said in his State of the Union address two weeks ago, laying out an ambitious government program and urging lawmakers: “Let’s finish the job.”
The “job,” today in Biden’s view, is nothing less than saving American democracy and defending freedom from autocratic regimes elsewhere around the globe. “Every generation of Americans has faced a moment where they have been called on to protect our democracy, to defend it, to stand up for it,” he warned. “And this is our moment.”
No one who’s thinking about stopping work talks like that. And in fact, most observers in Washington agree that Biden is striving for a second term in 2024. “No need to consult a soothsayer,” writes columnist Maureen Dowd in The New York Times. “Joe Biden is running.” The laconic assertion is noteworthy: In recent weeks, Dowd and many of her colleagues on the same opinion pages had passionately called for the president to step down in two years.
Waiting for the Moment
Biden himself has so far kept quiet about his ambitions. He actually wanted to explain himself around the new year. But then the affair surrounding his misplaced classified documents flared up. His advisers apparently want to let the dust settle on the matter first. An announcement will probably take place in March or April.
However, during a Democratic Party conference in Philadelphia at the beginning of February, there was a taste of what’s to come. “Hello, Democrats!” the president called out. “Four more years! Four more years!” the audience called back. Given his party’s unexpected success in the midterm elections, Biden allowed himself a little political victory dance. He proudly recounted his achievements from the infrastructure bill to low unemployment numbers to lowering drug prescription costs that he strove for. “I don’t hear any chatter of anybody considering taking him on in our party, and I think for good reason,” said New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy. “What I see is a guy who’s still on top of his game.”
Meager Approval Ratings
The Democrats’ demonstrative support for Biden contrasts not only with criticism from his party a few weeks ago. It also contradicts public sentiment. Polls put the president at na meager 42% approval rating. Among his predecessors, only Donald Trump got worse ratings at the halfway point. When Democratic voters alone were polled, 77% declared that Biden has achieved a lot, but 58% desired a different candidate for the future. This public opinion is actually clear.
David Graham from The Atlantic attributes the fact that everything is nevertheless pointing to a repeat of Biden’s 2020 duel with Trump to a paradox: “Biden will run as long as he doesn’t see any plausible alternative, but as long as he’s running, it’s impossible for any alternative to arise. As a variation on the term “Catch-22,” Graham speaks of the Democrats’ “Catch-24” situation.
Biden indeed seems convinced that he can best bring the country together, regain the lost workforce for his party and defend democracy against right-wing attempts to undermine it. His election victory over Trump and the unexpectedly good results in the November midterms seem to prove the man right who brings with him an impressive biography and a half-century of congressional experience. When the 80-year-old with the Ray-Ban sunglasses climbs out of the helicopter and trudges, grinning, past the waiting reporters toward the West Wing of the White House, you also get the impression that the most powerful job in the world is really fun for him.
‘I Know I Can Be a Good President’
He has basically been working toward this his entire life. “My wife always wanted me to be on the Supreme Court,” he told Washingtonian in 1974, “But while I know I can be a good senator, and I know I can be a good president, I do know that I could never be another Oliver Wendell Holmes.”
Biden was 31 years old when he said that. Two years earlier, he had become the youngest senator of all time. Not long after, he lost his wife Neilia and their year-old daughter Naomi in a tragic car accident. The widower initially raised his two sons alone and commuted 150 km (approximately 93.2 miles) every day between Wilmington, Delaware and Washington both ways. He subsequently married his current wife, Jill, in 1977.
He ran for president twice in vain. As vice president, he wanted to run a third time to succeed Barack Obama in 2016. However, those plans were derailed buy the death of his son Beau from cancer. Four years later, he managed what Hillary Clinton failed to do: He defeated Trump.
This unique life story may explain why the man in the White House is unfazed by polls and critics. Furthermore, no convincing alternative has come forward. The natural successor, Vice President Kamala Harris, has so far left no political mark whatsoever. She is now considered a total failure.
Other conceivable candidates have a profile that resembles Biden’s but with less fame and charisma. “Saturday Night Live” recently featured a skit in the style of a horror film in which voters are horrified by a new Biden candidacy. They then confront the alternatives from Pete Buttigieg to Clinton with a bloody vampire mask. “So Biden?” asks a young woman after a short pause.
However, one thing raises some doubt: Biden’s age. He is already the oldest president in history. He would be approaching 82 if he is reelected and would be 86 at the end of a second term. Biden just passed his annual physical, and his physician Kevin O’Connor certified that the six-foot-tall, 176-pound senior who doesn’t drink alcohol and says he works out five times a week, is healthy and vigorous.
However, the public impression he gives is sometimes different. The man who stuttered as a child gets muddled more often than before. He frequently coughs and walks stiffly. He sometimes seems altogether unfocused a bit. “I got a little frog in my throat,” he began during an appearance before 250 people at the White House. Biden was in high spirits and visibly enjoyed the company of the mostly more pragmatic local politicians. “You mayors know how to get things done,” he flattered his listeners, only to immediately meander from anecdote to anecdote. Some of his sentences trailed off, and the White House hotline number had to be fed to him because he “forgot it.”
This is happening more often during Biden’s public appearances. At one point, he confused the first name of a close political associate, at another, he mixed up some numbers. Sometimes, “experts” have become “exports.”
A Question of Generations
This all seems a little dramatic when you compare it to Trump’s monstrous lies. However, Democratic advisers worry about how a mumbling or erratic Biden would come across in a TV debate with a 51-year-old Nikki Haley or a 44-year-old Ron DeSantis. “America is not past our prime. It’s just that our politicians are past theirs,” Haley fired against Trump and Biden.
“Watch me,” Biden said while brushing off all questions about his competency for a second term. He is probably very aware of the issue because as a 29-year-old nobody in 1972, he brashly challenged Sen. Caleb Boggs in his home state of Delaware – and won.
The morning after the election, The New York Times tried to explain to its readers the sensational victory of the unknown newcomer whose younger sister Valerie had rather casually managed the campaign with friends from college: “Mr. Biden’s enthusiasm inspired his […] active supporters,” the paper wrote at the time. “His own energy drive was in daily and obvious contrast to that of his 63-year-old opponent.”*
*Editor’s note: Although accurately translated, this precise remark could not be independently verified.
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