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Let the Battle of the Septuagenarians rage on!
In this corner, 74-year-old President Donald Trump, the defending champion, who some say has trouble walking down ramps and staircases.
In the other, 77-year-old former Vice President Joe Biden, his lean Democratic challenger, who some say has trouble remembering things.
The Trump campaign is trying to cast Biden as a doddering old man, too forgetful to be president. It’s the same gambit they used on Hillary Clinton, whose “stamina” was called into question by Trump, who — remember? — became a laughingstock when he refused to walk 700 yards for a photo op with other G7 leaders in Sicily and had to be transported by golf cart.
“Geriatric mental health is no laughing matter,” said a pro-Trump Facebook ad, as Trump tries to make Biden’s mental health a laughing matter.
Here’s the thing: Everybody forgets stuff.
Everybody misspeaks now and then.
But Biden, after eight years as vice president and 36 years in the Senate, could have forgotten half of what he knows and still have a better grip on the world than Trump does.
I’ll take common decency and empathy over cruelty and narcissism any day. I will take a candidate who believes that Black lives matter, that reproductive choice is critical, who wants all Americans to have access to healthcare and the voting booth and who doesn't fawn over dictators. I will take transparency over opacity, too.
Presidents and aspiring presidents have an obligation to let the American people know the state of their health. While Biden has been transparent to a fault, Trump does not believe he even owes the American public the truth about his weight and height.
We know just about everything there is to know about Biden — his previous history of atrial fibrillation, his gastric reflux issues, his allergies, his 1988 cerebral hemorrhage, his gallbladder removal, his non-melanoma skin cancers. He is 5-feet-11 and weighs 178 pounds, putting his body mass index at a healthy 24.38.
We know very little about Trump’s physical health, other than that he takes Propecia for hair growth and a statin drug to control his cholesterol and seems to exaggerate his height. (He claims to be 6-foot-3, while his New York driver’s license says he is 6-foot-2.) At his most recently publicized weight of 243 pounds, he is considered obese on body mass index charts.
We don’t know why he made an unscheduled visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center last November, though he claimed he was getting the jump on his annual physical. We don’t know why he seems fearful when he is walking down ramps and staircases, or why he has trouble raising a glass of water to his lips.
Questions about Trump’s condition intensified after his Saturday address to graduates at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Leaving the dais, Trump seemed unsteady on a slightly angled ramp. By the time he got to the end of the rather short walkway, he seemed positively giddy to have made it back down to Earth.
Late-night TV hosts could not resist. “He looked like a baby deer on a frozen pond,” said Seth Meyers.
“Now we know why he launched his 2016 campaign coming down an escalator,” joked Stephen Colbert. “If it had been a ramp, he’d still be coming down.”
Trump’s issue with stairs and ramps was already apparent in 2017, when CNN’s Jeanne Moos asked the White House whether Trump suffers from bathmophobia, a fear of steep declines. The reply: “That’s an absurd question.”
And yet, the attention to his West Point performance provoked a Trump Twitter rant: “The ramp that I descended after my West Point Commencement speech was very long & steep, had no handrail and, most importantly, was very slippery” he tweeted. “The last thing I was going to do is ‘fall’ for the Fake News to have fun with. Final ten feet I ran down to level ground. Momentum!”
I believe Trump is terrified of falling because he is afraid of looking weak or being mocked. Handrail clutching is his prophylaxis against potential embarrassment.
But come on.
With the attacks on Biden’s age and forgetfulness, the Trump campaign is clearly hoping to divert attention from Trump’s own physical health.
So please expect the attacks on Biden’s age not just to continue but to multiply.
In what now seems like a preemptive strike, just before the West Point graduation, Trump’s campaign escalated its attack on Biden’s fitness for the presidency.
“We formally join Joe Biden’s campaign in their call for the national news media, particularly cable and broadcast news outlets, to carry Biden’s remarks and unscripted events in their entirety,” wrote Trump 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale. “The failure to expose the American people to these rambling displays of incoherence, ineptitude, and forgetfulness is depriving voters of a clear picture of Biden’s inability to execute the duties of the office he seeks.”
A Trump campaign email soon followed: “This week in misadventures with Sleepy Joe” featured clips of Biden appearing to stumble over his notes, briefly misstating a previous office he held, joking that he was boring himself, etc.
Have these people never paid attention to the unscripted ramblings of their own candidate? The guy suggested ingesting bleach to kill the coronavirus, for heaven's sake. “And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning?" he asked during one of his credulity-straining Coronavirus Task Force briefings. "Because you see, it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that.”
I would be happy to take age off the table and make this race about competence, humanity and policies aimed at ensuring the survival of the species — all of them.
Even if Trump were right about Biden, I’d take doddering over despicable any day.