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Joe Biden gives hope to oldies everywhere Stop psychologically enfeebling the elderly: look at what we can achieve

Joe Biden. Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

Joe Biden. Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images


November 17, 2020   4 mins

It has been a dispiriting year for us oldies, but it has ended on a positive note with one of our own in the White House. Joe Biden, who is 78 on Friday, is by some distance the oldest ever US president, and his age and mental capacity have been repeatedly commented on and criticised. He frequently has “senior moments”, as the Americans like to call those little lapses in recall, and was not seen as a particularly good thing. His rival Donald Trump, who at 74 is no spring chicken and is the second-oldest man to leave the presidency, even compared “Sleepy Joe” to a care home resident.

But why not put a more positive slant on the President-Elect’s nearly four score years? Joe Biden’s great advantage, says Sir Peter Westmacott, former British Ambassador to the United States, is his experience. He has been in politics a long time, learned a lot, and knows a great deal about how things work. This is a notion that certainly appeals to those of my demographic — born, like Mr Biden, in the 1940s.

We have the experience. We don’t always have the zing, the techie skills, the daring and innovation of all those clever young folk, but by heck, we have the experience. There are real advantages to being able to approach any problem and remembering how it presented — and was resolved — previously. Many of life’s problems are cyclical, after all.

Mr Biden will be the first American president to be older than I am since the first George Bush, who left the White House in 1993, and although I have no particular stake in American politics, his age seems symbolically cheering to many of my generation. Hey! Your dreams are not yet dead! Look at Joe!

It is claimed that Chinese culture venerates the old, and indeed that is part of Confucian tradition. But America, and maybe American optimism, often allows the oldsters to claim their place in the sun (sometimes literally, in Florida) and their chance to show they can still make a contribution to society.

The death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September was a pivotal event, not just for the personal loss of a remarkable woman, at 87, but because it created a vacancy in the American Supreme Court. As well as the succession’s political impact, it also revealed what a cult following this frankly elderly lady of the law enjoyed. There were RBG dolls, RBG posters, RBG tattoos and RBG badges, among a host of other celebrity merchandising. She was old, but she was cool. Until the recent election, Nancy Pelosi, at 80, was a feisty speaker of House of Representatives. And there’ve been plenty more active oldies on display.

Even in the world of film and screen, which — quite naturally, to my mind, must highlight the aesthetic of youthful beauty — older performers have held their place in the galaxy. Despite feminist complaints that “ageism” more usually discriminates against women, there seems no shortage of outstanding female thespians. Dames Judi Dench (85), Maggie Smith (86), Eileen Atkins (86) and Helen Mirren (75) are still going strong. Sophia Loren, at 86, has just appeared in a new film, The Life Ahead, in which, critics say, she gives an unforgettable and compelling performance.

It’s encouraging for this demographic that there’s visibility of older faces, and Joe Biden’s crinkley-handsome, well-worn visage is a pleasing exemplar. For the Covid pandemic has not only hit older people disproportionately: it has also psychologically enfeebled the self-image of the elderly. We have been repeatedly described as “vulnerable”, which may be clinically accurate, but is still, somehow, depressing. We have been messaged to stay at home, reduce social contacts, quit those stimulating encounters at art galleries, cultural soirĂ©es, church services, coffee mornings. Travel trips abroad, or cruises — much favoured by the older demographic — have been halted. And, of course, there is the ongoing sadness of older people being separated from their adult offspring, and their grandchildren.

Everyone understands that sensible measures have to be taken during the spread of the virus, and older people usually behave responsibly. But it’s dismaying that the typical picture of the 70-somethings has been degraded from proactive granny to frail little old dear who has to be “shielded”. In Ireland, the elderly were ordered to “cocoon”.

The announcement that an effective vaccine is now on its way will, hopefully, change much of that, and the over-75s will be among the first in line to avail of it, we’re told. That’s a prospect to revive a feeling that there’s a dance in the old folk yet.

Piquantly, one of Mr Biden’s Covid advisors, Dr Ezechiel J. Emanuel, has said that “creativity, originality and productivity are pretty much gone by 75”. High creativity is indeed more usually associated with youth or early middle age: mathematicians and poets have often done their most important work by their 30s. But nothing is invariable — Yeats’ late work was magnificent, and Michaelangelo and Picasso went on into old age.

It’s true that experience has a negative side. It can make people more cautious: they know the dangers that lurk behind any decision. Not all experience is relevant, because times and circumstances change — when I was a youngster, a job in a bank was considered a safe, steady and reliably remunerative career. Paradoxically, age may give you the insight for a situation which you are now too old to command. It’s said that by the time an actress is mature enough for Shakespeare’s Juliet, she’s too old to play it.

Youth does have energy and creativity — often an excess of it, as Carrie Symonds seems to be demonstrating as she exerts a prevailing influence at No 10. But Boris will always need a few greybeards on board, too. Because experience really is valuable, and it can bestow judgement and perspective.

People sometimes suggest that the Queen must be appalled by events occurring within her own family — and in the wider world. There must be moments of distress but I also imagine she takes a longer view, informed by her years. Marital breakdown? Look at history. Difficult princesses? There’ve been a few. Tantrums among politicians? It happens. Tragedies and calamities? They are part of our lot. But all of it passes, and Elizabeth’s immense experience — why, her first encounter with an American President was when Eisenhower had a gushing, almost schoolboy crush on her — is what steadies the ship of state.


Mary Kenny is an Irish author, broadcaster, playwright and journalist.

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Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

Anyone with any knowledge of Biden’s dismal and often wicked record knows that he brings no hope to anyone, except to China, Wall St. Big Tech and the Military Industrial Complex.

Nicholas Staveley STANLEY MBE
Nicholas Staveley STANLEY MBE
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Hi Fraser, yours is a remarkably definitive statement – without even giving the man a chance!
Only time will tell, so let’s wait and see.
Don’t forget that he has teamed-up with a very clever and determined woman – who will always act as “Devil’s Advocate” for Joe and his ideas, She is far too strong a character to be a door-mat to Jo Biden! So her relationship, as VP, with the new President, will be the total antithesis of the sterile relationship bwtween Trump and Pence.
Make no mistake, Biden will hear, and seriously take into account, the views of Camela, and be certain, she will be highly influential in shaping the future of the USA!

Terry Mushroom
Terry Mushroom
3 years ago

Time has already told us what Biden is like.

Dan Poynton
Dan Poynton
3 years ago

You’re everywhere, Nicholas – how much are the Democrats paying you? Without giving this ancient career politician with too much blood on his hands “a chance”? Remember we’re not at the Guardian in these pages. Lift your game.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
3 years ago
Reply to  Dan Poynton

And her name is Kamala. She rose from her knees to the vice presidency. Only in America!

Robin Lambert
Robin Lambert
3 years ago

o zero delegates Kamel A harris …As vacuous (Tv debates) as Carries Simmonds in UK

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

He had a ‘chance’ to do something useful or honourable over the last 47 years as a Senator. He did nothing useful or honourable and he embodies all the uselessness and wickedness of the western political class.

pirh zapusti
pirh zapusti
3 years ago

Biden has been in office for 19% of the time the United States has existed.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
3 years ago
Reply to  pirh zapusti

Without once distinguishing himself. And look at the man’s family for a lesson in degeneracy and depravity.

David George
David George
3 years ago

Good on you for highlighting the experience and the value of our elderly.
Kind of shot yourself in the foot by using Biden as an example though, he is seriously past it. Putting him and the American people through this is obscene.

Alison Phillips
Alison Phillips
3 years ago
Reply to  David George

Precisely! Biden got elected because he was not “Trump”. Obama did not want a commie (Bernie) or a socialist because big tech don’t want to be taxed. Biden was a soft socialist.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
3 years ago
Reply to  David George

The cheap Carrie/Boris jibe did nothing to add weight either ….

Andrew Baldwin
Andrew Baldwin
3 years ago
Reply to  David George

Well said, David. When BIden was asked during the campaign why he didn’t oppose NAFTA if he thought that the USMCA Trump negotiated was a better agreement, he replied: “”What I say to that is, number one, the Bush administration did not keep its commitment on NAFTA, number one, and it was a mistake, number one.” Someone who can’t count beyond one is seriously past it indeed.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago

I’m sorry; “senior moments”? Really? Has this woman seen some of Joe’s meanderings or, worse, read the transcripts? What Biden’s family – and by extension, the Dem establishment – has done to him is a crime. I’ve seen a relative grapple with dementia; it’s not funny and parading a man who can barely string together a coherent thought beyond ‘good morning’ onto the public stage is horrible.

Apparently, Jill Biden is channeling her inner Edith Wilson and fancies herself as the decision-maker as Joe’s decline continues. This isn’t age; it’s cognitive function. Interesting how Emanuel was brought up and, just as quickly, dismissed. By Ezekiel’s reckoning, Joe would have already been dispatched to the next life.

Mike SampleName
Mike SampleName
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Jill’s going to have to fight Kamala to be the puller-of-strings behind Joe.
As many others have pointed out, Joe didn’t win because he’s Joe, or because of his position on anything, but purely and simply because he’s not Trump. He could have been replaced by anyone, and the result would have been the same – but then they wouldn’t have had someone ready to step down whenever convenient to place a younger, more dynamic, more progressive VP onto the throne without the bothersome detail of winning the election first.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago

By then, they will have all forgotten who the party summarily rejected Harris’ candidacy when given the chance to support her.

G Harris
G Harris
3 years ago

Lionel Shriver, the American Spectator columnist, wonderfully described incoming VP and possible president Kamala Harris, of whom she is clearly no particular fan, as like the child who had rather too many of their own crayon drawings stuck to the refrigerator door by her parents.

Richard Slack
Richard Slack
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

AS has been well documented, Biden has a stutter and like most stutterers he adopts an approach, when blocked on a particular word, of moving to another similar one which can give rise to an appearance of losing a train of thought. But public speaking is not overly important compared with an ability to master facts in a report. He would not have been my nominee for the Democrats but he will bring to the job decades of experience in public life, a complete absence of ego and a nature that has learned much through suffering.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Slack

You appear to know very little of Biden’s long record of crimes and disasters. One of Obama’s security advisors said that Biden had been ‘on the wrong side of every foreign poiicy decision of the last 30 years’. He was still defending the invasion of Iraq when it was obvious that it was a blunder of world historical proportions.

Then there’s the 1994 Crime Bill, which led to the very long-term incarceration of hundreds of thousands of young men, mostly black and hispanic, for non-violent crimes.

He recently delivered a eulogy at the funeral of a former KKK member, and in the early 70s said that he didn’t want his children educated in a ‘racial jungle’.

In addition, I would refer you to the many video compilations of him stroking, sniffing and touching young girls.

I could go on and on…

Richard Slack
Richard Slack
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

You usually do go on and on, often to little effect. Yes the “War on Drugs” in 1994 was a huge error which has lead to the incarceration of huge numbers of Black people but this was hardly Biden against the rest, it was the accepted wisdom of the time and few opposed it. It is an issue now realised and I suspect Biden will be guided on it. It is good though that Biden in the White House has got you to realise that Black Lives Matter.
The videos you refer to are indeed behaviour which is now regarded as inappropriate but, were pretty much the actions of an over affectionate uncle figure at the time and carried out in public. Trump boasted about the fact that one of the bonuses of organising young beauty pageants was the opportunity to get behind the scenes and see the contestants getting changed.

Daniel Björkman
Daniel Björkman
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Slack

Yes, it’s downright amazing how progressive conservatives have suddenly gotten, isn’t it?

I’m the first to admit that Biden is heavily flawed and not the one I would have picked. But he has the considerably redeeming feature of not being Trump. If Republicans want the next Democratic candidate to be better, then they should consider not picking a Republican candidate who sets the bar so depressingly low.

polidoris ghost
polidoris ghost
3 years ago

Neither candidate is fit to hold office.
Biden is as bad as Trump, just bad in a different way.

John McCarthy
John McCarthy
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Slack

At what point does over-affectionate become sexual?
Jimmy Saville often behaved inappropriately in full public view as well. Trump’s gross comment is indeed disturbing, but in what way does the comparison you make actually vindicate Joe Biden?

Nicholas Staveley STANLEY MBE
Nicholas Staveley STANLEY MBE
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Slack

At last, thank God. someone with a good intellect!
Well done Richard, keep ’em coming!

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Slack

Please stop. Stuttering does not block one’s train of thought; it does not result in a mish-mash of incomprehensible verbiage. It’s very clear that the individual is struggling with a particular sound or group of sounds.

Yes, he’ll bring 47 years of ‘experience,’ categorized mostly by legislation that imprisoned black men on an industrial scale. We can debate whether the crack problem in inner cities merited such a solution, but he’s an odd choice in a time when all we hear about is race and how the justice system mistreats black people.

Dan Poynton
Dan Poynton
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Slack

A complete absence of ego! Now the man is a Buddha! This is first-class entertainment I must say.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Richard Slack

I have seen some of Biden’s Senate speeches from the 1990s when he was describing young black men as ‘super predators’ and pushing the Crime Bill that locked so many of them up for so many years, for non-violent offences. There is no evidence of a stutter. Even by the standards of politicians, he’s a very nasty piece of work.

Warren Alexander
Warren Alexander
3 years ago

As an “oldie” well into retirement, Biden’s election fills me with despair.

Nicholas Staveley STANLEY MBE
Nicholas Staveley STANLEY MBE
3 years ago

Warren, Don’t forget that Kamala Harris is there for Biden to rely upon!
And she will play a huge part in shaping the future of the USA!

Dan Poynton
Dan Poynton
3 years ago

Are you serious, Nicholas, or are you a propagandist? Have you looked into these two cynical career politicians’ records?

Sarah Packman
Sarah Packman
3 years ago

I cannot believe this article! Where have you BEEN???
Nope. I don’t have the energy to trash it, but the good people below have done a fabulous job for me.

ard10027
ard10027
3 years ago

Old Chinese Joe would not be my exemplar of the wisdom of age.

David Bell
David Bell
3 years ago

Why did the author not mention that Trump is 74. Does the author not consider him old or is she just airbrushing him out of history?

G Harris
G Harris
3 years ago

‘Everyone understands that sensible measures have to be taken during the spread of the virus, and older people usually behave responsibly’

Is that largely the implied age, maturity and experience that makes a majority of older people behave quite so ‘responsibly’ I wonder, or might their own naturally greater health succeptibilities, mortal fears and, dare I say, usually far less parlous financial situations play a significant role in these apparently selfless, ‘responsible’ behaviours, in stark contrast to their ‘reckless’ younger counterparts?

Alison Phillips
Alison Phillips
3 years ago
Reply to  G Harris

Well said. My parents & in-laws have guaranteed income (pensions), nice houses with gardens and lock down has zero impact. Selfish people – the elderly are known for being cantankerous. Also Trump was old too, but no one suggested this was an advantage. Old people are fearful of everything – frightened of falling, want complete silence, don’t like young folks

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
3 years ago

Wow – your elder relations must be dreadful to drive you to make such a dubious (and sweeping) generalisation.

Maybe your tone will become calmer as you age …..

Dorothy Slater
Dorothy Slater
3 years ago

At 83, I am the ONLY one who is marching to a different drummer re the current lockdown which has increased the already soaring anxiety levels that my younger friends are experiencing. I am told I am selfish and happy to infect everyone when I suggest there are other views to consider And yes, I social distance, wear masks and stand in long lines to grocery shop.

. And no, I don’t want complete silence – I listen to everything from YMCA to Brahms and I like young folks. I guess the only thing I am REALLY fearful of is what is happening to our universities, media, business etc. now that the cancel culture young are taking over.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago

you didn’t stereotype quite enough.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

. . . nor generalise enough!

Robert James
Robert James
3 years ago
Reply to  G Harris

Older people were the ‘reckless’ young themselves not so long ago. What makes you think they have forgotten their previous behaviour? Maybe they’ve just, you know, grown up a bit, as people tend to do when they get older.

G Harris
G Harris
3 years ago
Reply to  Robert James

Youth is wasted on the young, eh.

I’m sure that some older people have and some haven’t, and that’s based on my own extensive experience, but it’s also become abundantly clear to me that what some people regard as the only ‘responsible’ course of action here also often happens to really touch them in the smallest of ways and yet comes with devastating, far reaching, long lasting consequences for others who would otherwise be largely untouched by it.

To me, the ‘responsible’ course of action being taken here over the last 8 months has been anything but, but if you believe that is has been the triumphant, informed result of people’s age, maturity and experience, then I shall bow to your superior, presumably oak- aged wisdom and hope, so very desperately, that I am completely wrong whilst attempting to tune out the apparently false reality I personally see and hear every day of its increasingly dire economic, health and social consequences.

Sarah Packman
Sarah Packman
3 years ago
Reply to  G Harris

And this is the opposite of the reality as well! The old folk in my village ignore lockdown and masks lecturing others on ‘we survived a war, we’ll survive the common cold’, however the brainwashed youngsters are TERRIFIED and wear masks like good little Stepford Wives.
Such a poor article!

shinybeast1
shinybeast1
3 years ago
Reply to  Sarah Packman

Yeah I find it so strange that teenagers and young healthy adults are walking around empty streets wearing face masks!! What are they doing??!!! Why!!!

hiberneander
hiberneander
3 years ago

From The Federalsit: Biden COVID Advisor: Those Older Than 75 Should Get Vaccines Last

Americans should be deeply troubled that a man Biden is looking to for advice on COVID is someone who hopes to die at 75 and has publicly supported rationing care for the elderly.

By Elizabeth Bauer, November 16, 2020

pirh zapusti
pirh zapusti
3 years ago
Reply to  hiberneander

This is insane but not surprising. A generation of elderly politicians have done nothing to help those most susceptible to COVID.

Derek M
Derek M
3 years ago

I’m afraid some of the author’s examples are flawed. Leaving aside credible issues regarding corruption, I’d suggest Biden’s so called senior moments are more like someone with real cognitive problems. That’s hardly ideal in a President. Likewise Ruth Bader Ginsburg may have had a cult following but she was clearly unfit for her role for quite sometime before her death and should have retired. I’m not against old people in responsible positions but it depends on their capacity

Dan Poynton
Dan Poynton
3 years ago

Brilliant satire, Unherd! A paean to a man one wouldn’t trust to take one’s grandchildren to the corner store (especially one’s grand-daughters apparently) let alone rule the “free world”. If I was one of the inspiring “old” people that I know I would be very hush-hush about admitting either Joe or Donald belong to my club.

Nicholas Staveley STANLEY MBE
Nicholas Staveley STANLEY MBE
3 years ago

Three cheers for the elderly!
I remember, on my first day at University (longer ago than I would like to admit), a lecturer told all of us that, barring any dementure, the human brain will remain receptive to 100 years of age, and even beyond, provided there is interesting stimulus!
He (the lecturer) went on to state that you could strap a parachute onto the back of any octaginarion, or nonagenarian, push them out of a light aircraft at 15,000 feet and, if you asked them about it one week later, one month later and 1 year later, they would be able to recall every detail every time you asked!
Always assuming, of course, their parachute had opened and/or they had not suffered a cardiac arrest during their descent!
So, before you start pushing elderly folk out of aircraft – please make sure they have passed a medical first!
I will be a septuagenarian very soon. So, in preparedness for a decline in my brain’s efficiency, and upon the advice of my neuropsychologist, I have taken up the study of something which I have always found to be challenging but interesting; Theoretical Physics – and I am pleased to say that despite suffering serious brain-damage in 2014, I have learned a huge amount. I am in the process of writing-up a disseratation upon dark energy/dark matter which links many modern theories together, including “Loop Quantum Gravity”, to explain the paradox of “The Missing Energy”!
I hasten to add my theorem is not the “Unification” theory everyone is looking for – to marry Einsteinian theory to quantum mechanics – the greatest paradox of all. But it does posit where the missing energy is to be found, agrees with Einstein that our universe is “Finite but Unbounded”, that there is no need for “Dark Enerrgy/Matter”, and that our Universe is spherical and not flat (as is thought at the moment), why our Universe is expanding, why it is expanding at an exponential rate, that the “Big-Bang” is still happening and how the furthest Galaxies defied the speed of light to occupy space at otherwise impossible distances from Earth!
I’ll give you a clue; Its all to do with redefining our understanding of “Nothing”! in its purest form – as it both exists and does not exist, at the same time!
And, if I am correct, it would be a MASSIVE victory for “Oldies”!

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
3 years ago

You make “Nothing” sound like Schroedinger’s cat!

pirh zapusti
pirh zapusti
3 years ago

I will never understand the pride with which people describe their lack of “techie skills.” There’s no reason to stop learning as you age. Boomers were around when computers, the internet, smart phones, etc were invented and popularized, yet somehow, they function with the most rudimentary understanding. I can’t wait for the day someone capable of building a city of tomorrow is actually elected into public office in a country that embraces the future. Maybe in 30 years.

Juilan Bonmottier
Juilan Bonmottier
3 years ago

The age is not the issue -it’s the level of competence to the task that is set.

Juilan Bonmottier
Juilan Bonmottier
3 years ago

Ancient Chinese proverb: ‘give sleepy Joe lots of dosh and he will serve you well’