Mr. Jagger, of course, is a freak: Hyper-talented (an official rock star for more than five decades, his celebrity aura has actually ensured that he’s become underrated as a musician and songwriter) and a Peter Pan fantasy brought to life. But the point is still illustrative — humans age at rapidly different clips; one man’s 76 is another’s 36.
A pathbreaking study in 2015, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, confirmed that many people not named “Jagger” age more slowly than others.
The researchers tracked 954 different people born around the same time and found that “young individuals of the same chronological age varied in their ‘biological aging’ (declining integrity of multiple organ systems). Already, before midlife, individuals who were aging more rapidly were less physically able, showed cognitive decline and brain aging, self-reported worse health, and looked older.”
Even in their 30s, people are at wildly disparate physical and cognitive ages.
This fact has been brought into stark relief during the Democratic presidential race. Mr. Biden, in his mid 70s, is doddering, noticeably more elderly than he was even four years ago. While apparently reasonably physically healthy, he refers to “record players,” waxes poetic about his relationship with segregationist senators, and has trouble stringing together a coherent paragraph, much less consecutive sentences.
The writer Matthew Continetti has observed correctly that Mr. Biden has a “four-sentence problem. He’s on message for four sentences and then, once he hits the fifth, launches into outer space. Then stops mid-sentence-eighteen when he sees his time is up.” It appears that his mind is nowhere near as nimble as it once was.
Contrast Mr. Biden’s presence with that of Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, who is two years his senior. Mr. Sanders may have had a literal heart attack earlier this month, but he still appears far more agile and hearty than the former vice president does.
At last week’s debate, while Mr. Biden struggled to get out his talking points, the Vermont socialist was forceful and on-message. Then over the weekend, Mr. Sanders held a large rally in Queens — drawing the largest crowd of any Democratic candidate during this primary season — and was again hale and powerful. It seems safe to say that Mr. Sanders is a young 78.
Or does it? In a way, it seems that it’s somewhat unfair to say that Mr. Sanders is just plain cognitively younger than Mr. Biden. Mr. Sanders, very real physical health concerns aside, is actually doing something quite easy: repeating the same platitudes he has for decades. After all, Mr. Sanders is a true life-long socialist; for him, it’s always been class warfare, “political revolution,” and a deep cynicism about American democracy.
Some might find Mr. Sanders’ unrelenting consistency admirable in its way. Fine. But how much intellectual dexterity, really, does it require to just keep saying the same thing for years on end? A real test of Mr. Sanders’ flexibility would be to ask whether he has ever, in his life, changed his mind about something.
Mr. Biden, by contrast, is doing attempting something far more challenging: repudiating just about everything he had stood for in his five decades of public service. The 1990s crime bill, his seminal piece of legislation that put more cops on the beat, stiffened federal prison sentences, and helped contribute to vast crime declines? He now expresses regret for it. The Iraq invasion, which he championed as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee? He now claims, laughably, to have opposed that misadventure. The Hyde Amendment, which prohibits spending taxpayer dollars on abortions? He throughout his career backed it, but now opposes it.
This level of flip-flopping would be hard for any politician, let alone a 76-year-old, to sell convincingly. Even Mick Jagger might not seem so young if, rather than sing “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” for the umpteen-thousandth time, he were forced to all of a sudden start belting out “Hey Jude.”
• Ethan Epstein is deputy opinion editor of The Washington Times. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @ethanepstiiiine.
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