She won’t say exactly how old Patricia Millman is. In front of the Carnegie East House retirement home on New York’s posh Upper East Side, she waits for the bus. “But I’m older than Joe Biden,” she laughs. “Slightly above.”
Since Joe Biden (80) ran for re-election on Tuesday, Americans have only been talking about his old age. If he wins, he will begin his second term as president at age 82. The average American has been dead for about nine years.
About the Author
Maral Noshad Sharifi is the United States correspondent for by Volkskrant. She lives in New York.
“Of course I’m going to vote for him,” says Patricia Millman – as if it were a silly question. “He’s an endearing man, respectful of others, efficient…” And his age? “I don’t see that as a problem, because I don’t feel like I’m deteriorating yet,” she said, leaning on her walker. “All people age differently. If Biden thinks he can handle it, then I believe him.
About 70% of Americans dislike Biden’s comeback, including half of Democrats. “They’re complaining he’s too old,” said Democratic strategist Maria Cardona The New York Times. “But when asked who could do it, there is no one else.”
Rollators and walking sticks
The Upper East Side is a slow neighborhood in a hyperactive city. This is where the President’s peers crawl, often behind a walker or with a cane. How do they view the president’s political ambitions?
“Biden too old?” An Asian American woman stops by a bush to take a picture of a white flower. Then she lowers her mask. “Do you know how stupid young people can be? The 85-year-old is not allowed to give her son’s name. Too often, the elderly are abused. But she wants to say why she thinks there’s nothing wrong with an octogenarian being president.
“Look,” she said crisply, “no candidate is perfect.” What she loves about Biden is that his imperfections are clear to everyone. “A lot of young politicians claim to be perfect, but later turn out to be rotten inside.” She pulls up her mask: “Biden is a good person! Have you forgotten what we had to face before?
age is a number
Joe Biden is already the oldest president the United States has ever had. His predecessor Donald Trump (76) was the oldest for this. There is a good chance that they will face each other next year. If Biden wins in 2024, he’ll be 86 when he’s done. But according to experts, age is nothing more than a number. Only medical research can show if someone is fit for hard work. Joe Biden has never drank alcohol. He does not smoke, plays sports at least four times a week. Run miles, lift weights.
But he sometimes mumbles unintelligibly, mixes up names and countries. His walk becomes stiffer, he coughs a lot. The fact that he’s a stutterer doesn’t help either.
The best way to judge if he’s too old “is to look at me,” Biden says in interviews. But Americans rarely see it. As if the White House was hiding it. Biden gives fewer speeches, press conferences and TV interviews than his predecessors. His candidacy was announced by video on Tuesday. Maybe because people who see him often say: in real life, he looks much older than on TV.
“President Biden remains a healthy and vigorous 80-year-old man, capable of successfully carrying out the duties of the presidency,” his medical examination concluded in February. Surprisingly, nothing was said about his cognitive state. Still important for someone who is just over halfway through his first term and wants to continue until 2028.
On the Upper East Side, they don’t want to hear about it. “Everyone looks older up close,” says Marjorie Madfis, who says she fired everyone over 50 from her department — including her. “While I was the first to offer podcasts in 2012!”
Greg Harris, a floating voter approaching 70, would like to work on Wall Street again, but is not hired. “Let’s talk about the merits of Biden,” he also said. Many Upper East Side seniors find the focus on age outdated. Especially now that all kinds of people, groups, sexualities and bodies are being embraced.
‘Are you still 81?’, it sounds further away. It’s Bill (85), to his girlfriend Judith. “I thought you were 71!” Judith rolls her eyes. The two friends laugh on a bench by a sea of tulips in Central Park. “Don’t start with politics because it will turn into a fight,” says Judith. “We are poles apart.”
Bill is a hard-line Republican who voted for Trump in 2020. Yet he thinks Biden is an honest politician who serves the American people. “I won’t vote for Biden, but I’d rather not vote for Trump either,” Bill said. His girlfriend looks at him with satisfaction. After some bickering, they turn out to share a wish. “I hope the young candidates will rise up,” says Judith. Her older friend nods in agreement. They don’t know yet who it should be.
“I don’t think Biden is too old now,” Judith says, “but I see around me how quickly it can deteriorate.”
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