Keep the Faith. Know When it’s Time to go


Two weeks ago I wrote a piece I titled “Biden’s Gamble.” I confessed my growing angst that what worked in 2020 and got Joe Biden elected, might not work in 2024. I raised the idea of a “national unity” ticket with someone sane who believes in the Constitution from each party.

Last week that piece appeared in Post Alley. In response, some readers accused me of sowing division when a united front behind Joe Biden is essential. Others said the idea of a “national unity” ticket is a complete non-starter that would only bleed support from the Democratic ticket. Still others said this was all “too late.” The horses are out of the barn. Joe is running. Suck it up and get with the program. Someone in the Biden campaign referred to those raising such concerns as “bed-wetters.”

All that said, it’s not too late for Joe to gracefully step aside and open the field. Just because we’ve grown accustomed to campaigns that run two to three years doesn’t mean that it has to be that way. I suspect opening the field now would generate an interest and excitement that is so far lacking. And there’s no reason that a successor candidate can’t continue the best parts of Biden’s agenda. She or he should do so. Democrats don’t have to run against Biden. They do have to run against Trump and the spineless, and lawless, GOP. Just for the record, I think Trump is too old also, but he has so many other deficits that this one pales in comparison.

Meanwhile, a colleague at Post Alley, Eric Scigliano, has written a graceful and heart-felt open letter to Jill Biden, who visited Seattle this week. It is such a kind and lovely letter. I urge you to read it, and hope that Jill and Joe will as well.

One of Eric’s points is that, historically, a President’s second term is seldom anywhere near as productive as the first. Worse, second terms are often marked by miscues and endless controversy. It’s as if the air has gone out of the balloon. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush would be recent cases in point. A second Biden term might work out. But, I’d say, the possibilities for disarray, even disaster, are pretty high.

There’s a larger issue here. In a world where many are living longer, when is it time to step aside from leadership roles? We once had an arbitrary age of 65. But that doesn’t really work, given increased longevity. Nor is it legal.

When is it time to move over and give younger people a chance? Doing that, fostering a new generation and allowing for generational change, seems to me an important task and a responsibility of aging.

Right now, we are seeing too many politicians hanging on when they need to move on.

It’s not just an individual problem when people hold on too long. It goes deeper. It betrays a lack of faith. Or a lack of faith in the future, of possibilities we cannot foresee, of people we do not yet know. And yet, as crazy as it sounds, it is so easy for those who have been good at what do to imagine that they are indispensable. People, whether sincere or not, will tell such a long-serving and beloved leader, “We can’t go on without you.” “You must stay.”

They are wrong. None of us are indispensable. Our “dispensability,” if you will, is built into God’s plan, a.k.a. mortality.

One of my favorite Biblical stories is about the prophet Elijah. After a great victory, Elijah suffers a crisis of confidence. He flees into the desert, taking refuge in a cave on Mt. Horeb (where, generations earlier, Moses had received the Ten Commandments). There God speaks to Elijah, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” What Elijah is doing is having his very own pity-party.

Elijah delivers a long self-justifying response to the Almighty’s question that combines grandiosity with self-pity in equal measure. He says, “I, alone, am left. I am the only faithful one still standing, and they are trying to take my life.” Not in so many words, God says, “Nonsense, get over yourself, Elijah.” God tells Elijah that there are many hundreds who keep the faith and that Elijah’s job now is to return and anoint a new generation of leaders. Elijah thought that it all depended on him. God said maybe he was taking himself a little too seriously (see I Kings 19 for the whole story).

All this to say that the drama playing out now with regard to the 2024 election, is also being played out in many, many other lives and settings where people are asking, or need to be asking, “Is it time for me to step aside from leadership. Is it time for me to relinquish power?”

I understand the need of those of us who are aging and enjoying a longer life-span to feel needed and to contribute. By all means. But one important way elders can contribute and signify their faith in others and in our common future is to step aside so that others can step up, and support them as they do so.

Anthony B. Robinson
Anthony B. Robinson
Tony is a writer, teacher, speaker and ordained minister (United Church of Christ). He served as Senior Minister of Seattle’s Plymouth Congregational Church for fourteen years. His newest book is Useful Wisdom: Letters to Young (and not so young) Ministers. He divides his time between Seattle and a cabin in Wallowa County of northeastern Oregon. If you’d like to know more or receive his regular blogs in your email, go to his site listed above to sign-up.


  1. Spot on, Tony. Both Biden and Trump should step aside and spare us the agony of a rematch. It’s clearly time for a new generation of leaders.

  2. Before buying into far off analysis, suggest reading Thomas Friedman’s up-close NTY column on Biden’s handling of Israel’s PM Bono Netanyahu at United Nations meeting last week.
    Armchair analysis dwells on public gaffes and stumbles and rarely appreciate sure-footed performance in consequential situations.

  3. Give young people a chance? Agree. Let’s look at Barack Obama. This exceptional young man announced his candidacy on February 10, 2007. A junior senator, he had already built a strong base of support, a formidable network helmed by seasoned warhorses. He had nearly two years in which to run. He didn’t wait until November 2007 to announce.

    This crucial 2024 presidential election is a mere 14 months away! So who is this unknown Democratic candidate out there who can amass such support? Who is more electable than Joe Biden, who will save us from Donald Trump, who has openly announced he will ” finish the job” he started in his first presidency?

    Yes, for 2028, would love to see another candidate of Barack Obama’s brilliance; I’ll be rooting for Kamala Harris.

    But this 2024 election, less than year away, is about preventing the truly horrifying prospect of Donald Trump in office again.

  4. Others in need of this conversation are Mses Feinstein, Pelosi; Messrs Sanders, McConnell, Clyburn, Grassley.

    That said, I am less interested in personalities than I am in positions on issues. What politicians ‘stand for’ is more important than the power and privilege of position. Truth in advertised matters, we need politicians who have personal integrity and not opaque and ulterior motives.

    Moreover, I’m tired of highly polarized politicalization, the entire contest in the Congress should be played between the 35-yard markers. Model the Bell Curve to attract equal numbers of legislators from both sides of the aisle to pass legislation. Continued scorched-earth tactics currently employed by both political factions is unacceptable!

  5. I spent some time today reviewing notes taken in 2020. There was plenty of time to take notes in 2020; the punch line from a cartoon of the time read, “I’m not adding this year to my age: I didn’t use it.”

    The notes include reference to a now-defunct website,, recalling to mind Biden’s task of uniting a fractious lot of Democrats whose only common ground was opposition to Trump.

    They include all the debate over identifying a vice-presidential candidate who would satisfy all the identities within the party (including Mr Biden’s own stated criteria) and would not pose a direct threat to his leadership.

    They include the election numbers. Numbers that proclaimed Mr Biden the first President since at least 1932 to win a higher plurality than Nobody (the candidate of persons who do not vote) and thus the first (when Nobody is counted as a candidate) live human to win the election. Numbers that came almost exclusively from the urban centers of the Northeast, the Midwest, and the West coast. Any meaningful splitting of the vote from those regions would have handed the election to Trump – whose total vote count would have won the election handily in most years.

    It appears that the Trump vote remains solid, while the urban-center vote remains very much at risk of fracturing. Carter, Clinton, and Obama – all centrists – had, as pointed out above for Obama, risen from the ranks by this stage in their respective election cycles to claim party leadership and Presidency. I don’t see a lot of space for exciting new centrist candidates in the current cycle, and I don’t perceive a candidate other than Biden who wouldn’t fatally split the Democratic vote (or drive it into Nobody’s campaign, a risk Biden too faces). If I’m a Democratic party strategist (the world is probably grateful that I am not), I’m maybe not seeing an alternative to

  6. One rule I have tried to follow is to leave an organization you start within five years. And, once left, do not haunt the place and pull rank as a “founder.” Start something else, instead. The Founder Syndrome often exacerbates the pattern Tony discerns, of overstaying one’s effectiveness.

  7. There is the desirable – Joe gracefully retires – and the consequences: another Trump victory. It is too late in the process to chose and rally around an alternative. And then there is the Kamala Harris issue which would cause deep divisions among the “tribes” and she is a non-starter for many of us.

  8. Even Ralph Nader has set aside his resentment of Joe Biden, recognizing that the horrors of Donald Trump winning office for a second term override everything else. (According to the Washington Post today)

  9. When people advise the Democratic Party to select a young leader to run against Trump, I wonder who are they talking about? I haven’t seen a potential candidate that fills our needs. Our president is the spokesperson for the US but also for democracy and fair elections worldwide. We need someone who can best represent our ideals to the world. There is no one in American politics other than Biden who can fill that role now. Also, I am always shocked at people who talk about a president not delivering on their favorite issue. Do they think the American president is like a king who can fulfill all campaign promises by him or herself? What is happening that our citizens have no idea how our bicameral Congress, judicial branch and administrative team actually work? And one last point, look at the cabinet that Biden has chosen. He hasn’t appointed cronies, he has knowledgeable and respected leaders in their respective areas of oversight. Finally, I don’t see evidence of Biden having cognitive or major physical challenges. Just remember Reagan in his second term when his mind was obviously slipping. Yes, Biden walks somewhat stiffly but it is his mind and his team that we should base our vote on, not his arthritis.


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