Our Presidential Contest: Times Call for Boldness


As the ancient Chinese curse goes, “May you live in interesting times.” In that usage, “interesting” means times of disruption and chaos, wished upon an enemy. Being stuck with two candidates, neither of whom should be President — albeit for quite different reasons — is our present curse.

I will say this for President Biden. He has finally captured the front page and the headlines from Donald Trump, no mean feat. Since the June 27 debate, it has been all about Biden, who has now made it clear that only “God Almighty” will get him to drop out of the race.

When asked by interviewer George Stephanopoulous if he would take a test to verify his cognitive capacity, the President punted saying, “I take a test every day,” pointing out that he was not only campaigning but that “I am running the world.” I would say he’s also running a bit short on humility. His claim to be “running the world” sounds uncomfortably akin to Trump’s, “I am the only one who can fix it.”

I do agree with Kathy Cain, writing at Post Alley, that the issue is not age. It is frailty. It is a useful distinction, one physicians make, one that Atul Gawande addressed in Being Mortal. Constantly harping on Biden’s age, as many are doing, sounds like ageism. Some are quite vigorous and sharp at 80, 85 even 90. Frail is a different index. On June 27, and not only then, Biden appeared extremely frail.

Here’s Cain: “Enough with all this talk about age. I don’t understand why everyone keeps focusing on that word. The problem we’re dealing with is not age; it’s infirmity. It’s also pride and vanity, but let’s deal with one problem at a time. Both candidates are old. The real issue is, some old people are full of energy, enthusiasm, rage and lies, but are also mad as a hatter. Others are distinguished, accomplished, experienced, and intelligent, but clearly exhausted and possibly ill.”

Beyond the distinction between age and infirmity or frailty, Ezra Klein makes the key point. “Democrats have spent so much time imagining what could go wrong if Biden steps down that they struggle to imagine what could go right.” Which is to say that they are motivated more by fear than by hope.

My hunch is that a lot of Americans are disgusted and disaffected by this Presidential race, and by politics more broadly, because neither party is offering hope. Both, again in different ways, are driven by fear. Trump appealing to those who fear America is in terrible decline. “You are losing your country.” While President Biden is incessantly saying that if Trump is again President, it means the end of American democracy. Where’s the hope?

Klein concludes his column on this note.

“Democrats tried to play it safe and failed. It is time to open themselves to risk. The candidate next in line is not always the best choice. The leaders who look perfect on paper don’t always perform under the klieg lights. But contests do not just feature disappointments. They reveal who is ready to rise to the moment. Democrats should give themselves, and the country, the gift of finding that out.”

If there is such a thing as a particular “American genius,” it is the willingness to take a risk, to be bold. The founders who signed the Declaration of Independence, which we celebrated this past week, were not “playing it safe.” If there is truth to the claim that America is a nation in decline, “playing it safe” at such a crucial historical juncture would seem the confirmation.

Anthony B. Robinson
Anthony B. Robinsonhttps://www.anthonybrobinson.com/
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. Brilliant way to bring out the best in pundritry: Kathy Cain and Ezra Klein. But, Anthony, your closing is very inspiring. Well done.


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