Biden marks his 80th birthday, sort of


It is a day that has been met with a hint of dread. The nation’s oldest president is hitting a new, and most unwelcome, milestone on Sunday, and no one really wants to celebrate. Even President Biden himself.

“Somebody said my birthday is coming up,” he said recently. “And I said, ‘No, that must be somebody else.’”

When he was asked separately during a radio interview what an 80-year-old Biden would tell a 50-year-old Biden, he immediately responded: “That I’m still 50!”

“I can’t even say that number, 80,” he added. “I’m serious. I no more feel that than I’d get out from behind this desk and fly.”

The White House has few plans to mark the landmark birthday in any major public way. Any celebration will be eclipsed, by design or not, by the wedding festivities of Biden’s granddaughter Naomi at the White House on Saturday. The first lady is planning to host a birthday brunch on Sunday — a family tradition that usually takes place the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, but in this case will occur on Biden’s actual birthday since the family will already be gathered.

At a time when Biden’s age has come up again and again in focus groups and surveys, the fact that he is now the first Oval Office octogenarian is something few in the president’s orbit are eager to highlight. It comes as he considers whether to run for reelection — which, if he wins, would place him at 82 during his inauguration and 86 at the end of a second term.

At the same time, any appearance of urgently trying to downplay his birthday or ignore it could carry its own peril. Biden’s decision to downplay the occasion runs counter to some of his predecessors, who have embraced such moments while in office.

When Ronald Reagan — until Biden, the nation’s oldest president — turned 70, celebratory moments unfolded throughout the day. House Speaker Tip O’Neill and other congressional leaders sang to him in the Oval Office. Nancy Reagan helped plan a party in the East Room that featured Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Stewart.

Reagan, whose advanced age was a dominant issue during the presidential campaign, took the approach of embracing his age, with a tinge of humor. “I want to thank you for starting out the celebration of my 31st anniversary of my 39th birthday,” he joked.

President Barack Obama marked his 50th birthday with burgers with staff for lunch and a bash at the White House that included performances by R&B artist Ledisi, jazz musician Herbie Hancock and legendary singer Stevie Wonder.

If Reagan’s hosting of Sinatra and Stewart nodded to an old-fashioned America, Obama’s guest list signaled his identification with a cooler, more youthful part of the culture, as attendees included rapper Jay-Z, comedian Chris Rock and basketball icons Charles Barkley and Grant Hill.

Some presidents did not need a milestone birthday to mark the occasion: Franklin D. Roosevelt, for his 52nd, held a toga party at the White House, dressing as Caesar while first lady Eleanor Roosevelt went as the Oracle of Delphi.

When Dwight D. Eisenhower turned 70, he had an outdoor party, planted a commemorative red oak, and listened as a crowd of 6,000 sang, “Happy Birthday, Dear Ike.” “There were times when, stirred emotionally, he could not trust his voice,” reported the New York Times.

By his own account, Eisenhower was moved not only by emotion but also by fear of aging. “The idea of retirement is sometimes terrifying,” he confided that day. (He also said, “No one should ever sit in this office over 70 years old, and that I know.”)

Biden is in a different position from those predecessors. His age — and by implication the notion that he may have lost a step — is a major part of Republican attacks on him as he weighs reelection. It has already played into the private discussions of some Democrats that he should step aside for a new generation.

Even so, Biden is not the first president to shy away…

Read More: Biden marks his 80th birthday, sort of

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