US President Joe Biden cracked a joke about his age during a speech in March 2023 at the International Association of Fire Fighters Legislative Conference in Washington
Washington (AFP) - With voters and opponents raising concerns over Joe Biden’s advanced age as he ramps up a still-unofficial 2024 campaign, the 80-year-old president frequently parries such jabs with uneasy humor.
“All the years I was a senator – which were 270…” he joked about his decades-long political career during a speech earlier this month, making a crack at his own expense.
In the face of what is his main handicap in the eyes of voters, the US president, who would be 86 at the end of a second term, has mostly leaned on bravado.
“Look at me!” he says each time he’s posed a question on the subject by journalists, underlining his stamina after two years in one of the world’s toughest political jobs.
Often, the Democratic leader, who has not officially declared his plans to run but is widely expected to do so, makes the point of taking a few jogging strides before ducking into his helicopter or plane as photographers snap their images.
After a speech, whether to Congress or on a foreign visit, he now often lingers to shake hands, chat and take selfies, as if to show he is undaunted by a new presidential campaign, a grueling exercise if ever there were one.
“Do you think I need it?” he joked to the press last autumn when asked about the date of his annual medical checkup.
After carrying out the physical exam in February, the presidential physician made assurances that Biden was in good health and “fit for duty.”
In a recent interview with CNN, First Lady Jill Biden made it clear it was out of the question for her husband to undergo the mental competency tests required by Republicans for candidates over the age of 75 hoping to clinch their party’s nomination.
“We would never even discuss something like that,” she said, dryly.
Despite the bluster, however, the president knows the issue could not be more serious: according to a Yahoo News/YouGov poll conducted in late February, 65 percent of Americans consider him “too old” for a second term.
But Biden does not shy away from making the occasional joke about the subject that long been taboo among his supporters.
- ‘Bit of hair’ -
In the March speech at the International Association of Fire Fighters Legislative Conference, Biden joked that when he was first elected to the Senate in 1972, he “had a little bit of hair.”
He even ventured a joke on Monday about a sensitive topic: the operation he underwent in 1988 for brain aneurysms.
“They had to take the top of my head off a couple times, see if I had a brain,” said the president, who is notorious for gaffes and has been labeled senile by some Republicans.
Former president Ronald Reagan was also attacked for his age while campaigning for a second term.
The Republican, who was 73 years old – making him the oldest sitting president in US history at the time – also leaned on humor during a 1984 televised debate.
“I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience,” he said, in a still-famous quip.
For the current president, a key reelection campaign challenge would be to find the right tone about his age – a matter of numbers but also of perception.
According to the Yahoo News/YouGov poll, only 45 percent of Americans think ex-president Donald Trump would be too old for a second term, despite him not being much younger than Biden at 76 years old.
Biden, however, will likely want to ensure he is the only one cracking jokes about his age.
The Wall Street Journal noted in a recent article that big-name TV comedians, who until now had mostly spared Biden, had begun to aim more digs at the president.
Jimmy Kimmel, host of a late-night eponymous show on ABC, mocked the recent discovery of classified documents in the president’s garage, next to his sports car.
“Which is more dangerous, Joe Biden having classified documents in his garage, or Joe Biden having the keys to a Corvette?”