‘What a drag it is getting old’: Biden and the limits of being 80


“What a drag it is getting old,” the Rolling Stones once sang, and perhaps no more so than for Joe Biden, who in November will become the first sitting US president to turn 80.

Though Mr Biden continues to say he’s running for re-election it’s hard to believe he would actually go through the rigours of a campaign (and four more years in the White House, if he got them) in 2024.

The truth is living longer – and working longer – has its limits, sometimes physical and all too often, psychological. There is the older person’s own perception of what they can or can’t do any longer and there are other people’s sense of what the older person should or shouldn’t do.

Mr Biden dropped hints during the 2020 campaign that he was a one-term president, who would serve as a “bridge” to a new generation of leaders. Accordingly, voters and everyone else cannot be blamed for viewing him as a transitional presence in an Oval Office defiled by the previous president.

His age adds to the complications caused by Mr Biden’s own pronouncements on limiting himself to one term. In May 2018, 92-year-old Mahathir Mohamad was an anomaly when he led the Malaysian opposition to an historic election upset and became the world’s oldest elected government leader.

Mostly, great grandfathers (or mothers) don’t win elections; nor do they run for them.

Age imposes its own limits on prospects and ambition.

Even though the state-pension age is no longer set in stone at 65 – it has risen in some rich western countries – this does not necessarily mean older people stay productive or at the peak of their game.

The New Map of Life: 100 Years to Thrive’, a report from the Stanford Centre on Longevity, says that by 2050, up to half of today’s five-year-olds can expect to live for 100 years. This could mean that 60-year careers become standard, it added.

Not in frontline democratic politics though.