Last night’s Met Gala in New York hosted a feast of celebrities from Rihanna to Margot Robbie to Kim Kardashian and Bill Nighy. America’s political version of the Big Night Out took place at the White House Correspondents’ dinner in Washington – with many cocktail events and policy gossip washing around for several days. This week in Washington feels the recovery zone from an event that returned to full hoopla after the pandemic and a long sulk from Donald Trump, who declared that it was “so boring and so negative” (ie because of him) that he snubbed it three times. to host a “very positive rally” instead.
It is no coincidence that Joe Biden launched his run for a second term in the White House right before the event. It was an opportunity to see him side by side with vice president, Kamala Harris, with whom his relationship is strained, and to address the presidential elephant in the room: his age. The aim is that unwelcome talking points will be dealt with, so that by the time the election race begins in earnest next year, it will be a thing of the past.
Humor allows, on these occasions, to address a deplorable topic obliquely. Roy Wood, the “roast” comedian of the party, pointed out, “they had a riot in France when the retirement went up to 65, we have an 80-year-old man begging us to work another four years. ” Biden said that while many people thought he didn’t like Rupert Murdoch (92), “that’s not true. How can I not like a guy who makes me look like Harry Styles?”
Behind the highly engineered jokes lies a grim truth: there are few enthusiastic “Bidenites,” even among his core Democratic support base. But many feared that he would not be as secure against Trump and the attendant threats if the President were not a candidate, despite the obvious risks of his age.
A vice president is de rigueur to add diversity (gender, race and age) to an older male ticket. Democratic party decision-makers feared a return to schisms with the Left over identity politics. In fairness to Biden, he shut those down well, by being adamant about defending abortion rights and deflecting divisions among progressives on transgender rights by turning the topic into an attack on Trump’s embodied “MAGA extremism” .
So is Kamala Mark II — despite an uninspiring stint as Biden’s surrogate. The answer to the question of whether she is qualified to be the figure who is the “heartbeat” of the presidency is clearly no. One way to handle difficult questions, however, is not to ask them.
The late actress Elizabeth Taylor mastered this art when she was asked years later about the large age gap with her much younger eighth husband, replying early, “If he dies, he will die.”
Biden’s bid to stay in the Oval Office hinges not on being exciting but on defeating Trump and being the best bet to do so again, as another Republican contender falls by the wayside.
He is also far from alone in a club of world leaders who are in their later years as the pendulum swings from youth — Bill Clinton was 46 when he took office, Barack Obama 47 and John F. Kennedy just 43 — for the “old school”, literally. Biden was 78 when he was first elected and Trump 70.
Automata also tend to hang around, as transitions in irresponsible regimes are a weak point. China’s President Xi turned septuagenarian in June and Vladimir Putin passed the milestone last year. But age in politics doesn’t always equate to baldness – Ronald Reagan’s “morning in America” era began when he was inaugurated, turning 70 at the inauguration. In the unelected ranks of power our own King will formally take the throne this week at 74.
America is preparing for its choice of 2024 – a warhorse with a set of acceptable values, clashing with blue-collar voters and the more pragmatic end of the radical coalition. This isn’t the worst arrangement, when so many others are going awry. It does, however, leave a generation gap emerging. The excesses of grandfatherly maturity in the global system leave younger voters governed by a generation far removed from their own concerns and experiences. That can’t go on forever — even if it sometimes feels like it.
Anne McElvoy is an executive editor at Politico