Until a few days ago, I was feeling fairly sanguine about America’s prospects. Economically, we’ve had a year of strong growth and plunging inflation — and aside from committed Republicans, who see no good, hear no good and speak no good when a Democrat is president, Americans appear to be recognizing this progress. It has seemed increasingly likely that the nation’s good sense would prevail and democracy would survive.
But watching the frenzy over President Biden’s age, I am, for the first time, profoundly concerned about the nation’s future. It now seems entirely possible that within the next year, American democracy could be irretrievably altered.
And the final blow won’t be the rise of political extremism — that rise certainly created the preconditions for disaster, but it has been part of the landscape for some time now. No, what may turn this menace into catastrophe is the way the hand-wringing over Biden’s age has overshadowed the real stakes in the 2024 election. It reminds me, as it reminds everyone I know, of the 2016 furor over Hillary Clinton’s email server, which was a minor issue that may well have wound up swinging the election to Donald Trump.
As most people know by now, Robert Hur, a special counsel appointed to look into allegations of wrongdoing on Biden’s part, concluded that the president shouldn’t be charged. But his report included an uncalled-for and completely unprofessional swipe at Biden’s mental acuity, apparently based on the president’s difficulty in remembering specific dates — difficulty that, as I wrote on Friday, everyone confronts at whatever age. Hur’s gratuitous treatment of Biden echoed James Comey’s gratuitous treatment of Clinton — Hur and Comey both seemed to want to take political stands when that was not their duty.
It’s a case of bureaucrats overstepping their bounds in a way that’s at best careless and at worst malicious.
Yes, it’s true that Biden is old, and will be even older if he wins re-election and serves out a second term. I wish that Democrats had been able to settle on a consensus successor a year or two ago and that Biden had been able to step aside in that successor’s favor without setting off an intraparty free-for-all. But speculating about whether that could have happened is beside the point now. It didn’t happen, and Biden is going to be the Democratic nominee.
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