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Overlooked truth about Biden’s age: ‘Team matters much more’

In terms of optics and in terms of energy, I wish President Joe Biden were younger.

There’s no point in pretending otherwise. And from the casual conversations all around me and the formal polling of voters, I know I’m in robust company. A great many Americans consider his age unideal, and that belief is why there’s no wishing away the focus on it. The swell of attention to it is more beginning than end. There are tsunamis yet to come.

Even so, aspects of the subject get too little consideration, starting with this crushingly obvious and yet frequently overlooked fact: The presidency isn’t a solo mission. Not even close. It’s a team effort and the administration that a president puts together matters much, much more than his brawn or his brio.

To listen to the fretting over how many hours a day Biden can vigorously work, how many speeches he can deliver and how many miles he can travel is to get the sense that he’s independently on the hook for the nation’s welfare. That he’s more action figure than decision maker. That he alone can fix it. That he shoulders all the responsibility.

But he’s not Atlas; he’s POTUS. And the president is only as good as the advisers around him, whose selection reflects presidential judgment, not stamina.

We acknowledge as much when we discuss how a president might fill or has filled his cabinet. We recognize that many vital decisions are made – and that most important policies are realized – outside of the Oval Office.

But that recognition weirdly dissipates when we start tallying Biden’s birthdays. We attach as much weight to digits as to discernment, or we imply that the former wipes out the latter. Yes, age can erode judgment – if a person’s cognitive health is in marked and clear decline. But Biden’s situation is more cloudy than clear, and nothing about it suggests that he’d treat governing as cavalierly as Donald Trump would (and did) or assemble a team as ragtag as Trump’s – or Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s.

He wouldn’t elevate a conspiracy theorist like the quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who was on a short list of potential running mates for Kennedy before, on Tuesday, Kennedy chose Nicole Shanahan, a philanthropist (and vaccine skeptic) with zero experience in public office. He wouldn’t invite anyone as unhinged and reprehensible as Rudy Giuliani, who led Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, into his inner circle.

Yes, Trump is about three and a half years younger and often peppier than Biden. Biden is about 300 times saner and always more principled than Trump. That’s the infinitely more important contrast between the two men, and we should never, not for a nanosecond, sweep it aside.

We should also call nonsense on many of the people who signal or say that Biden’s age is propelling them toward Trump. Obviously, that’s a dynamic for some of them, but it can’t be all that common because it defies common sense. Voters who’d be content to back a version of Biden with more spring in his step and less stammer in his voice have values, priorities and policy leanings that would probably render Trump an unconscionable choice. They’re not going to throw in with Trump because he throws himself around more forcefully.

Really, how many people say to themselves: Heck, Biden may be the guy with a proper respect for democracy, won’t blow air kisses at murderous tyrants and doesn’t sound like a fascist, but that Trump sure can shout louder, talk faster and clomp around more thuddingly! I guess I’ll go with Trump!

No, many of these Trump supporters like what he’s selling –maybe the lower taxes for corporations and wealthy Americans, maybe the promised crackdown on immigration, maybe just the vitriol – and have found a way to defend a vote for him (Biden’s decrepit!) without fully owning up to it.

In an age of rampant falsity, let’s be honest about that.

Frank Bruni contributes Opinion pieces to The New York Times.