The Democrats are the gift that never quits giving. Twenty-five Democrats (depending on who’s counting) think they’re capable of running the country and Thursday the party that can’t shoot straight gave us a presidential primary within a presidential primary.
This one is the Geezer Primary, and the collective age of the two front-runners is 153. Closing in on 80 may be a little north of what a homecoming queen expects in an escort to the ball, but if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, perhaps “spry” is a judgment we can measure for ourselves. Both Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden look like they could get around the floor for at least one last dance with the queen. Joe for one seems to have a way with the ladies.
Besides, an excess of years will be the least of what good ol’ Joe has to fret about. He picked a fight with Donald Trump in his announcement Thursday but no matter what he can think of to hint what he thinks of the Donald, he’s getting into that competition a little late. Is there anyone in America at this late hour who hasn’t made up his mind about the president? What is there left to say?
The president coined a new name for good ol’ Joe to welcome him to the race. “Sleepy Joe” is memorable enough, though the president might come up with something snappier, like “Creepy Joe,” for his hands-on approach to women. But the president doesn’t want to invite comparisons in that department. Fortunately, Sleepy Joe’s age, 76, is a disadvantage he shares with Bernie Sanders, 77. The president they both hope to replace has an almost identical disadvantage of age, and it hasn’t been fatal to him.
Ronald Reagan set the standard for dealing with the issue. In a debate with Walter Mondale, he promised “not to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” Mr. Mondale joined the laughter. But that was in a different age, when, as Mr. Dooley said, Democrats carried brass knuckles to a unity meeting. But none would carry a beheading knife. Mr. Biden, who carries his age well, has to avoid trying to look as young as Beto, Mayor Pete or one of the ladies.
One Senate primary I recall from the long ago featured a rich but aging candidate who tried to run everywhere to demonstrate his undiminished (or so he thought) physical prowess. One summer’s night on the trail, with the crickets singing in the Johnson grass to compete with Roy Acuff, Minnie Pearl and a troupe from the Grand Ole Opry, the old geezer leaped from the platform on a dead run and couldn’t stop running before crashing into the front row and into a tumble of women. He never lived it down.
Joe is the long-awaited grown-up in the race, but is there a sufficient audience of Democrats for a grown-up? Must he endorse the absurd Green New Deal, as other candidates have, and what about Bernie’s free-stuff platform, Medicare for All, a free college education, and enabling killers like the Boston Marathon slayer to vote from prison? Should Joe shun big-money donors, as Bernie has, and should he choose a younger running mate before the nominating conventions, as others, including Ronald Reagan, have done? (It didn’t work for the Gipper.)
Joe’s wise men floated the idea of choosing a running mate now and proposed that she should be Stacey Abrams, a black woman who lost a close race for governor of Georgia only last year. Ms. Abrams scotched that idea. “You don’t run for second place,” she said, and besides, she’s thinking about running for president herself. Why not? Everybody else is.
Joe understands that vice presidents must establish themselves as capable of surviving the equivalent of schoolyard fights without help. He even told Barack Obama to butt out. Love me, he said, but no wet kisses. Joe has a record to defend, too, often a record of doing the right thing, which makes him a particular target because the only right thing in our sordid era is a perfect score as judged by ignorant nitpickers and millennial dimwits.
The man from Delaware can be a gaffe machine, and the early evidence is that he will be willing to renounce every good thing he has done in 36 years in the U.S. Senate and eight in the White House to make himself acceptable to the party, once defined by the politically incorrect courage of Jefferson, Jackson and FDR, and now renounces itself. Joe has a strong resume and more experience than any other Democrat. But who needs experience and a strong resume? Watching the Geezer Primary may be fun, but the winner is likely to be a loser.
• Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.
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