After my recent interview with US President Joe Biden aired on MSNBC, I got the same question over and over again: How is he?
Each time, it was asked in that skittish way one speaks when inquiring about someone they fear is in decline. Folks, listen to me. Biden is just fine.
More than fine. In fact, after nearly 30 minutes with the president at Delaware State University in Dover, Delaware, a few days ago, I came away with two overwhelming impressions: Biden is totally going to run for reelection in 2024. And he doesn’t just like being president; he loves the job of president.
The first impression came when I asked Biden the reelection question. He gave his standard answer about not making a formal declaration because of the legal implications of such an announcement. Yet, it was when I asked him whether the first lady wanted him to run again that I noticed a non-verbal cue.
Biden looked at me as if to say, “Brother, you know I’m not going there,” which I took as my hint to end the interview. But when I started my goodbye, I saw another non-verbal cue — one that signalled he wanted to say more but wasn’t sure he should.
It took me by such surprise that my inside voice said out loud, “Oh!” and hoping not to lose the moment, I motioned with my hands for the president to tell me more.
He is running again
“My wife thinks that I, that we’re, that we’re doing something very important, and I shouldn’t walk away from it,” Biden told me. Formal declaration or not, the man is totally running.
Walking away would fly in the face of the sense of duty that Biden has always taken seriously, which has only grown since his son Beau died of brain cancer in 2015. And if you’ve followed Biden’s career, you know politics is a family affair.
A report from NBC’s Peter Nicholas, Carol E. Lee and Mike Memoli quoted a senior staffer for the first lady who said a 2024 reelection campaign “is something both Dr. Biden and the family fully support.”
But in addition to questions about whether Biden will run again, there are questions about his age. He’s already the oldest person sworn in as president. On Nov. 20, he will be 80 years old. “I can’t even say the age I’m going to be. I can’t even get it out of my mouth,” the president said, putting his hands on my shoulders in mock exasperation. “You think I’m joking. I’m not joking.”
80 on November 20
Oh, I knew Biden wasn’t joking. I think he marvels at his looming big birthday because of how tragedy has taken so many loved ones way too soon and left him to grow old without them. He says this has given him a healthy respect for the role of fate in one’s life.
But those personal losses have also fuelled his lifetime of public service, including his 36 years as a senator and eight years as vice president. What I saw during my interview was a man who relishes the opportunities a president has to help others.
“There’s only one reason ... to be in public life: Can you make life better for other people? And there’s no place that you have a better opportunity to do that than as president of the United States,” Biden said.
“I have more substantive experience on the issues facing the country, both in foreign policy and in domestic policy, than any president ever, just because I have been around so long doing this.”
Another nominee in 2024?
Sure, Biden is getting old. But the almost-octogenarian I interviewed was fit and eager to take on the decisions that land on a president’s desk. So, stop asking if Biden is OK. He very much is. But more damaging than the focus on his age is Democrats’ pining for another nominee in 2024.
No doubt this kind of loose talk will ramp up after the midterms if Democrats get shellacked. Still, it’s the kind of chatter that does more to undermine the Democratic Party and president than anything Republicans can and will do.
Democrats have a strong bench of impressive and younger would-be presidents. I can’t wait to see them on some future campaign trail. But it would behoove Democrats to circle the wagons around the Democrat who already has the job. Not as a firing squad, as they are wont to do, but as a sturdy wall of support. He’s going to need it.
Jonathan Capehart is a noted American journalist and television commentator