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Earlier this week, President Biden celebrated his 81st birthday. He jocularly pardoned a couple of Thanksgiving turkeys on the White House lawn. Later, on Instagram, he joked about turning 146, and on Threads, he posted a photo of himself sitting with a blazing cake.

“To the workers at the birthday candle factory,” he wrote, “I hope your union got you overtime.”

That Biden is comfortable joking about his age so publicly is a positive turn of events. Embracing his status as America’s oldest president helps defang the primary GOP line of attack against him: too old, too feeble.

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Stipple-style portrait illustration of Robin Abcarian

Opinion Columnist

Robin Abcarian

“Whoever decided to make a joke out of his age needs a raise,” commented one of his Instagram followers.

Indeed.

His critics, not surprisingly, were in no mood to congratulate the birthday boy.

The Wall Street Journal has been obsessed with Biden’s age for years. This despite the advanced age of its just-retired chairman, Rupert Murdoch, who stepped down in September at the age of 92. In fact, after Murdoch retired, the Journal raved about his stewardship in an editorial page sendoff with nary a mention of his age.

By contrast, the Journal’s birthday gift to the much younger Biden was a slap in the face. Citing his “age and obvious decline,” it opined, “Running for re-election in his condition is an act of profound selfishness.”

IJBOL, as the kids say.

The idea that Biden is too old or infirm to succeed in a second term is laughable.

Over the course of his presidency, as the country has emerged from the devastating pandemic, Biden has amassed an enviable record of accomplishment. But in voters’ minds the bad news seems to blot out the good, and when pollsters ask if his age is an issue most say yes.

The economy is strong, but Biden’s approval ratings are low. Although inflation has dropped, voters seem to blame him for undermining their buying power. Unemployment is at record lows, but mortgage interest rates have soared.

The country is in a sour mood for many reasons, including the dysfunction and brutal partisanship in Washington, the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East, mass shootings and the struggle over reproductive rights. Add to that the angst over Biden’s age.

The hand-wringing is especially annoying when you take into account that the Republican most likely to face him in 2024 is only three years his junior.

Biden is slender and active, while former President Trump is jowly and out of shape. Biden rides a bike and does yoga. Trump eats fast food. As an American, I found it embarrassing in 2017 when Trump rode in a golf cart in Taormina, Sicily, at a G-7 meeting, while all the other world leaders strolled up a hill on foot.

Leaving physical condition aside, Trump, who is facing 91 felony counts and four simultaneous court battles, can barely string a coherent sentence together. He yammers on about “golden showers” and left-wing “vermin” at campaign rallies, sucks up to dictators and vows to imprison his political enemies.

“Trump’s tendency to bluster has probably also helped hide his aging,” David A. Graham wrote in the Atlantic this week. “Biden’s tone of voice is soft and sometimes slow; he sounds old, in a simple aural sense. If you look at what Trump is saying, especially written out, much of it is unintelligible.”

And anyway, why is politics the realm of American life where faux hysteria about age is so rampant?

Yes, of course, ours is a youth-worshiping culture. But look around. Old folks still have it.

Lately, the entertainment pages have been awash in glowing stories about its elder achievers.

The 80-year-old director Michael Mann, whose new movie is about a critical moment in the life of the great Italian automaker Enzo Ferrari, for instance.

“A sense of fandom and fervor around the director has never been higher,” wrote my colleague Mark Olsen this month, “with a younger generation of movie fans attaching itself to his genre reinventions, impeccable craft and philosophical explorations of masculinity.”

Wait a minute. How come no one is carping that Mann is too old to be directing movies?

And what about that well-preserved icon, Jane Fonda, 85, who starred in four movies this year — “80 for Brady,” “Moving On,” “Book Club: The Next Chapter” and the animated feature “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken.” Why aren’t people saying she’s too old to act?

Last I checked, no one was shoving Clint Eastwood offstage into retirement. Instead, Warner Bros. hired the 93-year-old to direct the legal thriller “Juror No. 2,” which recently resumed production after the SAG-AFTRA strike ended.

Ridley Scott is 85. His new film, “Napoleon,” said the Daily Beast, “is a testament to Scott’s peerless directorial skill at bringing traditional combat to blistering life.”

Vanessa Redgrave, 86, has five upcoming projects.

The “Oracle of Omaha,” Warren Buffet, at 93, is still running his investment firm Berkshire Hathaway with no plans to retire.

So what gives with the perception that doom, gloom and panic are the right responses to the advanced age of our current commander in chief?

In response to questions about his age and capacity, Biden’s press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, recently joked that “80 is the new 40.”

Well, she’s wrong. As reams of recent commentary and research show, 80 is, in fact, the new 60.

And happy birthday, Mr. President. You’re an oldie but a goodie.

@robinkabcarian




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