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‘Talk about Biden’s age is code’

Roberts, Bill

It was never my intention to become an expert on language and I make no claim to be one. But it is hard to spend a quarter of a century reading and editing written opinions without developing some sense of how things are said ­– and what is really meant.

Take Joe Biden’s age. When people wring their hands over the president’s advancing age that is not what they are talking about at all. Talk about Biden’s age is code.

People on the left tend to lapse into jargon, which can be annoying or laughable. Those on the right tend to prefer code, which can be more dangerous in that it is often less obvious.

But the code here is clear. Every time the phrase “Biden’s age” is repeated, simply think: “Oh no! We could have a Black woman as president!”

To understand how obvious that is, simply look at the context. We are hearing a lot about whether Biden is infirm or losing it, and how old he will be if he serves out another term. And in another race that would be legitimate. Biden, after all, is 81 and the oldest president this country has ever had.

And who was the oldest president before Biden? Donald Trump. And if Trump wins back the Oval Office on Inauguration Day, he will be the same age as Biden was when he was sworn in.

This whole issue would make sense if Biden were facing someone in his or her prime. Say, someone like Bill Clinton who was 46 when he took office, or George W. Bush, who was 54. (Both of whom are slightly younger than Trump.)

But at Trump and Biden’s stage of life, a four-year age difference is nothing. Other factors such as heredity, diet, exercise – of the mind as well as the body – and old-fashioned luck play bigger roles than the calendar.

The Bible says a man’s lot is three score and 10, and those of us who have cleared that mark are reminded daily that things change over time. What may have been easy 50, 20 or even just a few years ago can be challenging.

And most of us get used to stumbling a bit, often like Biden both physically and verbally. Every once in a while, the right word is not there and names can be elusive. Conversations from the 1970s are clear, but what was said this morning may not be.

Any honest assessment, however, should also factor in the good stuff. People do learn from experience and most of us old folks are indeed wiser than we were in our youth.

That goes beyond simply not doing the stupid and foolish things that could have (should have?) gotten many of us killed back in the day. It is remembering how things work, what to do in certain circumstances, how to talk about delicate matters and, perhaps most important, when to shut up.

In the current situation, that is most apparent with Biden. He has been in and around Washington and the federal government for more than 50 years. He knows how it works and how to make it work.

U.S. life expectancy for a white male these days is roughly 77, which suggests that perhaps neither Biden nor Trump will make it to 2028. We do not yet know who Trump’s running mate will be, but if Biden is re-elected, that would indeed mean that a woman of color could be our next president.

Voters will have to decide whether to risk a Black woman or accept an orange man.

From 1990 to 2017, Bill Roberts was Opinion editor at The Durango Herald.