Advancing a Free Society

Biden Faces an Age-Old Truth

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Here’s one way to circumvent talk that you’re getting shoved aside in 2012 – talk instead about your own presidential prospects in 2016.

Or so seems Vice President Joe Biden’s strategy. Amidst talk that he could receive a one-way ticket to Foggy Bottom (Hillary Clinton coming in to breathe new life into the Democratic ticket), Biden’s speaking openly about a presidential bid in 2016.

There’s one big problem with this – well, at least four problems considering that (a) Biden is a tiresome gaffe-aholic whose ministrations run the gamut from silly to stupid to scary; (b) it’s hard to imagine, four years from now, the public clamoring for a continuum of, or a return to, the Obama Administration; and (c) it would be Biden’s third time around as a presidential candidate – and most winners get, at best, two cracks at the White House before history and new blood shove them aside.

That fourth problem: Biden would be 75 going into January 2016 and that year’s primary season.

And the Democratic faithful participating in said primaries? Well, they’re something of political ageists.

Consider the list of Democratic presidential nominees over the past half-century (incumbents not included), and their respective ages at the time they led their party into national battle:


John F. Kennedy 43

Hubert Humphrey 57

George McGovern 49

Jimmy Carter 51

Walter Mondale 56

Michael Dukakis 54

Bill Clinton 45

Al Gore 52

John Kerry 59

Barack Obama 47


The average age of a Democratic nominee: 51. The median age: 52. Three of the four winners: 47 or younger.

Biden is a generation too late, by any of these measures. In fact, one has to go all the way back to the illustrious Samuel J. Tilden and the election of 1876 (whose outcome, by the way, wasfraught with controversy – that century’s Bush v. Gore) to find a Democratic nominee in his 60’s.

For Biden, there’s always the option of switching over to the other side – which, it turns out, is much kinder to its elders (add to this conversation Hillary Clinton, the former “Goldwater Girl” who would be 68 in January 2016).

Again, going back over the past half-century, here are the ages of the GOP standard-bearers (once more, leaving out incumbent presidents). What you’ll notice: whereas the Democratic nominee rarely qualifies for a senior discount, “GOP” could just as well stand for AARP, with an average age of 61:


Richard Nixon 47

Barry Goldwater 55

Richard Nixon 55

Ronald Reagan 69

George H.W. Bush 64

Bob Dole 73

George W. Bush 54

John McCain 72


So where does this leave Biden? He’d sooner leave the Democratic Party than his running mate could kick the teleprompter habit.

But the problem is: the Democratic Party likely will leave Biden – regardless of what he might say about his future plans.

The moment the November 2012 elections, one of two outcomes is certain: Barack Obama is out of a job; or he’s a soon-to-be lame-duck second-term president. Either way, it will spark a conversation about the next round of Democratic leaders and who’s waiting in the wings moving to lead the party post-Obama.

Where will such talk take the Democrats? It could lead to a senator or a governor (or even a big-city mayor – Newark’s Cory Booker, who will be all of 43 next summer (the same age as Obama in 2004), is someone to keep an eye on as a rising star).

But, if history is a good indicator, the choice will be a man or a woman with fewer than 50 candles on the birthday cake.

And that means a conversation about youth and change – a conversation where Joe Biden just doesn’t fit in, no matter how he enjoys talking about himself.

(photo credit: Barack