Dear Mrs. Biden,
Welcome back to our city on a day when even the weather is fair. I expect you’ll find another warm reception for your Cancer Moonshot message, and another shower of contributions toward your husband’s reelection; we love our Democrats and care about cancer here in the land of the Hutch. This time, however, the clouds are looming, even in a blue bastion like Seattle, even if they don’t intrude on the closed-door gatherings you’ll attend.
I’m talking of course about The Question: Should Joe run? Or, Why on Earth is Joe running? In the latter formulation, it’s a question you might be better able to answer than anyone else. And, to put it crudely, you may be the only one who can talk him back from this abyss.
Yes, I know, the arguments against running have been made and remade for a year now. And yes, they’re not entirely fair. I’ll concede that stumbling over words and abruptly stepping offstage are things old folks do and, in the former case, something Joe has always done. They don’t necessarily mean real cognitive impairment. His judgment still seems sound, and he may beat the odds and continue to be sound for the next five-and-a-third years.
And yes, Donald Trump is just three years younger than Joe. He looks worse and lives worse—all those well-done steaks, all that weight, which even noose-length ties can’t disguise. And yes, he has a family history of Alzheimer’s disease; his father clung to control of the family business right up until the disease killed him, and I don’t doubt that Fred Trump’s son would do the same with the presidency he now sees himself equally entitled to. Dirty Donald is following a variation on my father’s absent-minded-professor’s maxim, “If you’re absent-minded, they won’t notice when you go senile”: If you’re deranged, they won’t notice when you become demented.
But deranged or demented, Trump will still be snarling and whining, still full of the bullying bluster and seething resentment that the MAGA millions find so liberating. Never mind reasoned arguments and command of policy; Trump has never played on those fields. Even if Joe can summon them on next year’s debate stages, he won’t get much chance to get them out. Trump will dominate by sheer physical presence, his raging bull making Joe look like a bleating lamb. Bill Clinton, my generation’s ablest politician, said it best: Wrong and strong beats weak and right.
And yes, I know, Dwight Eisenhower won a second term a year after suffering a debilitating heart attack, then survived a stroke in his second term and finished with a higher approval rating than Donald Trump and Joe Biden have ever received. But that was another era; Ike’s approval was always higher than theirs. And his signal accomplishments—the Interstate Highway Act, defending school desegregation, expanding social security—came in his first term. His second planted the bitter seeds of the Bay of Pigs invasion and Vietnam War.
And that points to another good reason to, like the movie says, get out. Second terms are always disappointing, too often disastrous. The big work gets done in the first round; Lincoln, our greatest president, had only one. And what a great first term Joe has had, with your help! The infrastructure bill, the Inflation Reduction Act (never mind the misleading name), NATO reinvigorated and democracies reunited, Ukraine supported and Russia blocked, rising employment and, maybe, a soft-landing recovery—a record to boast of, and one that will get more respect in retrospect. (Think Harry Truman.) Why spoil it with a second term?
A second Biden term bids to be especially miserable, with the rightwing nuts in the House twisting McCarthy like a worm on a hook, pressing payback impeachment claims, and hounding Hunter as though he’d scammed as much corrupt foreign cash as, well, Jared Kushner. Step aside and you take the wind out of their sails. Maybe turn the spotlight away from Hunter so he can take his lumps quietly. And, best of all, turn the age issue onto 77-year-old Donald Trump and his mental lapses. The dementia-watch vultures can then recall how, with the disgraced Dr. Oz’s help, Trump faked his checkup in 2020 while Biden was excruciatingly forthcoming with his medical data.
And the age issue is real. History is strewn with sclerocrats who hung on as they became incapacitated and either brought their countries to collapse or opened the door to ghastly successors. Would the Iron Curtain have fallen if the Soviet Union and its satellites hadn’t grown moribund under Brezhnev, Andropov, Ceausescu, Honecker, Mielke, etc.? Lenin’s incapacity gave an opening to Stalin; Von Hindenburg’s ushered in Hitler. Mugabe clung to power past 90 and dragged his country to ruin. Not only dictators are susceptible; remember the ailing Roosevelt, steamrolled by Stalin at Yalta? Reagan, oblivious to the Iran Contra shenanigans going on in the White House basement? John Paul II, letting priestly sexual abuse fester? Woodrow Wilson, failing to persuade Congress to join the League of Nations?
Speaking of Wilson, maybe you imagine following Edith Wilson’s example? Maybe you even dream of becoming another Madam President, running the government in your husband’s name? Just think of all you could do for service families, community colleges, and your other noble causes! Fuggedaboudit. That was another era, pre- Internet, television, even radio, when secrets could be kept.
Who needs it? Get out now and Joe would set a shining example and leave a lesson much needed in this age of advanced lifespan and soaring dementia rates. Let the Republicans be the party of gerontocracy, of Trump and McConnell, of zombies past their pull dates.
Make a clean break as Pelosi did and become an elder statesman like the Obamas, only actually elder. A Democratic free-for-all at this late date sound scary, I know. But it would reactivate the party. The Democrats who win have long been young and often been outsiders: Kennedy, Carter, Clinton, Obama. And there’s ample talent out there in the Whitmer-Klobuchar-Buttigieg-Booker-Cooper-Warnock-Newsom generations. (Notice how no one talks about Kamala Harris.) A retirement announcement calling for fresh blood, new ideas, and young energy could steer attention away from Bernie Sanders, 82, and Elizabeth Warren, who would reach that age midway through her second term.
Yes, it would have been better to step back last winter or spring, but the best time to do so is… now. Yes, it’s unfair that your husband doesn’t get credit for his achievements, that his poll numbers are even worse than Trump’s, but there it is. If Reagan was the Teflon president, Joe is the Velcro president. Even two-thirds of Democrats think he shouldn’t run again, and Joe now loses in face-off polls against Trump. The conventional punditry says Team Biden wanted Trump to get nominated because he would be the easiest R to beat. Now it looks the other way around.
I know you and Joe are both fighters, and I like to think you’re hanging in out of a sense of mission, not pride or vanity. I imagine you’ve both done some gnashing at not running in 2016, when he could have beaten Trump and Hilary Clinton didn’t. But times are different and it’s time to let go and let America get itself on track. The alternative, a Trump Revenge Tour, is too horrible to contemplate.