Joe Biden is the safe option that America should choose again amid turbulent times – Christine Jardine
Yet here we are less than three years later and the announcement that he is aiming for a second White House term and potentially another face-off with Donald Trump has been greeted with less than unbridled enthusiasm. In a recent poll, only 5 per cent of Americans wanted to see both President Biden and Trump run for the Oval Office again.
And a startling 70 per cent of voters, including Democrats, think Biden should call it quits at the end of this term. But confronted with that figure at a press conference during his trip to Korea this week, the president was adamant that his record of success will win the day over Trump or any other candidate next November.
He pointed to the millions of jobs that have been created to achieve an unemployment rate at a near-historic low. He highlighted the infrastructure investment, growth in the economy, and progress on climate protection as proof that he is doing a good job and needs another four years to finish. And age will not, he believes, be a factor. At 80, he is already the oldest person to be elected to the presidency, and his rebuttal to the doubters is that his success is proof that his age is not a problem.
Certainly, modern society can be guilty of underestimating the value that experience and the wisdom which comes with age can bring to many roles. Particularly in politics. But I am surely not the only observer who anticipated that, by now, Biden would be making way for the enigmatic and underestimated Vice President Kamala Harris.
To date, her record in office has failed to live up to the excitement which greeted her election and we are yet to see any evidence that she has the pulling power to win on her own, or get the opportunity for the moment to find out. Unless something unthinkable happens in the next year and a bit, it will be another Biden candidacy and the man who was rejected twice in the Democrat primaries will achieve a staggering longevity, to challenge even that of Franklin Roosevelt.
Biden’s career already stretches back six decades to the era of Richard Nixon and Watergate, when he became one of the youngest senators elected to Congress. Perhaps it is that connection with their past which has allowed Biden to enjoy the continued support of his compatriots.
He is a rare thing in modern American politics – someone with a memory of John F Kennedy as president, his brother Robert, Martin Luther King and the promise that all three brought to their nation. In some ways, he represents something approaching the sort of comfort in continuity that our own late Queen so clearly offered.
For an older generation of Americans, he remembers and shares their pain over the Vietnam War and the threat of the Soviet Union in the Cold War, and exudes security in an age of uncertainty. And why is his age even relevant?
If he is re-elected in 2024, Biden will be 82 when his second term begins and 86 when it ends. Our own oldest Prime Minister, the Liberal William Gladstone, was 84 when he finally stepped down and West Germany’s groundbreaking first Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, was 85 when he competed for and won a final term of office.
We have also seen much younger and less able US presidents demonstrate their frailties by struggling with the names of our own Royal Family or leaders of foreign nations. Then there was the excruciating example of George W Bush’s Vice President Dan Quayle who stunned a classroom of youngsters, not to mention the watching world when he could not spell ‘potato’
So perhaps, after all, it is caution about the unknown and comfort in the known during this period of global and upheaval uncertainty which is Biden’s strength for all generations. There is often much to celebrate in the status quo. Never more than when you are emerging from a health crisis unprecedented in modern times. When democracies, including your own, seem under mounting pressure. And there is a renewed threat to peace from Putin's aggression in Europe.
Moreover, for a nation that glories in proclaiming itself one of the founders of modern democracy, and the leader of the free world, the Trumpian assault on Capitol Hill was a shock to the common spirit. The surface appeal of the promise to “Make America Great Again” had been exposed in reality to be a threat to the stability of the country and its democratic institutions themselves.
In that context, Biden is the representation of continuity. The safe option. And when we are living in times that are perhaps too interesting, the prospect of another Biden presidency seems far from the worst option. Something to provoke not apprehension, but a sigh of relief.
Perhaps America has endured too much change recently and, regardless of what that change looks like, it can be costly. For the next 18 months, Biden and Harris need to take and, more importantly, create opportunities to reassure their country’s people that they are aware of and directing that change. "This is not a time to be complacent," Biden said. "That's why I'm running.”
Let’s hope he crosses the finish line.
Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West
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