Biden’s fellow seniors have advice to 81-year-old president

For those who doubt Joe Biden’s capacity to be president, Herb Klar has a suggestion: Swing by his neighborhood sometime.

“They don’t come to Rossmoor and see all the octagenarians … and see how lively and bright and competent we all are,” said Klar, 76, a retired clinical social worker, who was sporting a Golden State Warriors hoodie on a crisp afternoon on the east side of San Francisco Bay.

Old age, he said, “is seen as a kind of freakishness.”

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Biden is the oldest president in American history, making every day in office a milestone of sorts. He is attempting something never before tried: Winning reelection to a second term that would end when he is 86 years old.

The prospect horrifies Republicans. It also creates no small amount of stomach churn for Biden’s fellow Democrats.

“So many people as they get into their 80s start to lose some of their cognitive ability,” said Lee Herschman, who happens to be 86 and spent her career in the entertainment and recording industries. “That’s just what happens.”

But Herschman and others among Biden’s generational peers — people who understand better than most the challenges of aging — say they see no signs whatsoever the president is hobbled or unfit for office.

“He knows the facts. He knows the players. He has all the data,” said Katha Hartley, 83, who still works as a business consultant. “And if you compare that to the person who may be running against him, who might also be in prison later, there’s not even a comparison.”

Hartley and 14 others ranging in age from 68 to 92 gathered recently at a clubhouse in their woodsy 55-and-older community to discuss Biden, politics and what it’s like to watch folks advancing in their years.

All belong to the Democrats of Rossmoor, which claims 1,000 members, making it the country’s largest Democratic club. Not surprisingly, each of them supports the president’s reelection. (“A no-brainer,” one called out.)

But Biden was not their unanimous pick for the party’s 2020 nomination. Some preferred Elizabeth Warren, others Amy Klobuchar, Michael R. Bloomberg or Bernie Sanders before Biden emerged from the crowded field.

And not all of them agreed with Biden’s decision to seek a second term.

Ten of the 15 said they would have preferred he stand aside in 2024 in favor of someone else; Gavin Newsom, Klobuchar, Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and J.B. Pritzker and Gretchen Whitmer — the governors of Illinois and Michigan, respectively — were all mentioned.

It’s not anything that Biden has done, or failed to do. Some hailed him as the most successful and consequential president since Franklin D. Roosevelt, citing, among other achievements, passage of a massive infrastructure bill and efforts to boost tech and rebuild the country’s manufacturing base.

“He’s been politically brilliant in terms of domestic issues,” said Rose Holmes, 71, who worked as a physical therapist. “I think he’s been brilliant on the international stage in terms of how he was able to pull NATO back together” and rally nations to support Ukraine.

It’s not even so much doubts about Biden’s cognition or physical stamina. Rather, it’s worry over how others perceive Biden.

In short, his electability.

Steve Lazar is convinced the president’s mind “is solid as a rock.” But the 85-year-old — who had two careers, one as a popcorn distributor, the second as a commercial real estate broker — said that doesn’t always come across.

“Being nimble and being able to project his strength at that age is not going to be easy,” Lazar said.

“This is a media-driven age,” Jack Padley, 79, a retired state worker, put in. “And he’s no Jack Kennedy when it comes to delivering a message.”

About half — seven of the 15 — had concerns over whether Biden would even survive a second term.

“He’s old,” said Mary Taylor, a corporate consultant on diversity and equity issues who, at 68, was the youngster of the group. “Like we all are. Realistically, yes, something could happen.”

“Any of us could fall over at any minute,” another voice chimed in, drawing murmured assent.

Vice President Kamala Harris, who would step in if something happened to Biden, drew a mix of sympathy and consternation.

Not about her ability to take over as president, but rather how — as a Black woman and Asian American — she would be treated if she did.

Would congressional Republicans “push back on her just to prove that she’s not capable?” Hartley wondered. “I think there would be a bias against her from the beginning and it’s just maddening to me.”

“It has nothing to do with her competency,” said Cassie Tzur, 80, a retired social worker. “I think she’s sharp.”

But, she went on, “Despite our feminist efforts in the ‘70s and ‘80s and earlier, we still live in a racist and sexist society and I think she would be creamed. Look what they did to Obama and his wife. I mean, it was terrible how she was treated and I’m afraid the same thing could happen.”

There was no shortage of advice from around the rectangular table, most dealing with how Biden could come across without seeming, well, so old.

Raise and project your voice, he was instructed, so it doesn’t sound so papery. Chuck the cue cards and speak more from the heart, which Biden is obviously more comfortable doing.

Quit jogging to the podium, which, it was agreed, only makes him appear awkward and stiff.

“I know the message they’re trying to give you, but I don’t think he’s such a good messenger,” said Joyce Brock, who used to own two Los Angeles-area clothing stores, in the Valley and near LAX. At 92, she was the senior member of the group.

“They should have someone else like [Arnold] Schwarzenegger saying, ‘He’s in great shape.’ Have someone else talk about it instead of him,” Brock suggested. “He doesn’t look good.”

Appearance aside, it was agreed that age is nothing Biden should be ashamed of. It can actually be a virtue.

It’s not as though he is just entering politics at age 81. “He has a wealth of knowledge that he brings with him,” said Taylor, as heads nodded around the table.

Now Biden just has to convince the rest of the country.

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