President Biden delivering the State of the Union, forcing even Kevin McCarthy to applaud
while VP Kamala Harris smiles in amusement.
By Dominique Paul Noth
Joe Biden can lead a nation, but he sure can’t do anything about his age. Watching him rule that congressional mob February 7, however, made my Pacemaker sing.
He ran rings around Republicans 40 years younger during the State of Union address, making a usually formal event look much like a rugby scrum inside the British Parliament, where free-for-all antics are normal. But if this was give and take, he was clearly taking them. He led the Republicans to applaud for seniors and at least by behavior put Social Security and Medicare outside the zone of their debt ceiling threats (they may take that all back over time, but now know they will look foolish whatever they do).
The one thing Joe can’t change, and it will loom large even among Democratic supporters in his 2024 plans (looks like he’s running), is his age. He’s grandpa Joe, physically in great shape next to all us other 80 year olds, and he proved in that State of Union that he has more vigor and better ideas for the nation than that dying party. Ron DeSantis will have an easier target in the blubber of Donald Trump than he does in Joe Biden.
But the grandpa label is still there, intractable in a party that remains young in spirit, forward moving and basically progressive. Nancy Pelosi may look every minute better as Speaker of the House than that new GOP guy (who can do little more than purse his lips futilely at his misbehaving GOP underlings) but she is 82 and even Democrats chafed about that. Given how all sides of our culture treat age, including oldsters themselves, it is an issue.
I know. I still write on both politics and culture, I can still croak to my guitar and cook gourmet dinners. But I now have grandchildren as well as children who unconsciously -- and sometimes not so unconsciously -- are taking notice of my age. They accidentally can make me feel feeble even in those areas where I’m still pretty lively. I know I can’t keep up with them in energy and I have learned they don’t want me suggesting things that I know from experience that they still have to learn. Insisting on telling them is the definition of old fart. I know that.
At their youthful age, they are much like I was. They can’t help lecturing me about medical issues (though at my age I have investigated more ailments than they yet know about) or particularly the dangers of our new technological age -- though in the 1990s I left The Journal Company because the CEO thought I knew enough about the Internet to be put in technical charge of its online division. Even then I knew enough to know I didn’t know enough and was happy to leave a newspaper that knew so little about the Internet that they contemplated putting me in charge.
28 years later, there has been so much change I know I was right back then. My children, ranging in age from the thirties to the fifties, are so accustomed to this technology that they can Google their way into fixing most everything. Yet they pale next to their own kids, my grandchildren, who can do things on a laptop or a Smart Phone (except talk on it) that put most of their parents to shame.
Nothing can change their attitudes – we are all the oldies that have to be tolerated. So-called reverence for the elderly doesn’t stretch that far! So I can’t blame college age Democrats who admire old Joe but still hope for someone younger. I suppose I do, too – and I expect he does as well at times. It seems strange to skip two generations to find the party leader. But who else is there ready to go?
Not to say there aren’t a number of younger Democrats coming up fast on the outside. Some we can name – like Adam Schiff or Pete Buttigieg or Maryland’s new governor, Wes Moore – but if we’re looking ahead to 2028 (that seems most likely) the leading Democratic name may still be unknown. There’s also vice president Kamala Harris, but I am not sure she has lit a fire in the voters right now, and lighting a comfortable fire may be the best thing Biden has going for him.
2024 may be a case of grudging agreement among Democrats rather than the sort of electric charge enthusiasm that Obama rode into office. It may also be that down home Joe -- talking up the family kitchen table needs, quoting his father in speeches at risk of boring audiences with the familiar, handling world affairs without swagger and with intelligence and thoughtfulness; not a progressive firebrand but obviously leaning into progressive ideals and common-sense advancement – could be just what we need right now.
Personally I might like more teeth in how he tackles police reform, outlaws big guns and big magazines, pushes child care, fights for legal immigration – all things he mentioned but did not detail. But he is setting a pace that gets things done, as even the wilder progressives in his own party concede. I even wonder if his steady stubborn hand may actually bring about more changes in a society clearly too locked into political conflict.
It has become laughable that Republicans try to scare voters about Biden – Really? Good old Joe? Some sort of left-wing nightmare? Even traditional Republicans voters find that vision amusing. They know they’ve lucked out in getting a president who moves left from a comfortable middle, pushing concepts in a way that doesn’t inflame right-wing opponents, or shouldn’t if they had any common sense.
His new ascendance comes at an important time for Democrats, entering an election season where personal inter-party conflicts could generate hurtful moments. Just look at Arizona, which is confounding many party leaders. Sen. Krysten Sinema (who sat among Republicans during Biden’s State of the Union) has switched from Democrat to Independent but still votes with the Dems, which puts them in a strange position about offending her. Yet a noted progressive Democrat from the House, Ruben Gallego, is taking her on. What will the rest of the party do?
The House brings some problems of its own since three well liked House Democrats are talking about the California senate seat in 2024 though the much honored occupant, Diane Feinstein, has not at this writing announced her plans. Talk about pushing because of age! She is 89 now and would be 91 if she ran again, so both Adam Schiff and Kate Porter have announced they are running and Barbara Lee, a young 76, is thinking about it.
Wisconsin is a rare case of an important April election – NOW -- that could change the face of the entire state. It is the supreme court contest where four are contending Feb. 21 and then the final two for the April 4 finale.
|Campaign photo for Janet Protasiewicz|
My vote is for Janet Protasiewicz (have you caught her funny TV commercial about people trying to say her last name), a judge I wrote about in 2014 when GOP big money avoided her circuit court race. Would that would be true this year, when many expect an enormous amount of campaign spending by outsiders.
But that 2023 judicial election is also a one and done. It could flip the court majority to a four to three sensibility rather than the what-the-hell-did-that-mean conservative bloc that seems to blindly vote for anything the GOP dominated legislature wants to do.
It could be that a fair-minded liberal elected to the state’s high court in 2023 will have an inspirational impact on 2024 races where all the Assembly and half the state Senate are up for grabs, not to mention Tammy Baldwin’s US Senate seat. It even could lessen the GOP gerrymandering impact, since there are cases pending.
Historically Democrats do well in statewide contests but when you get down to districts for the state assembly and senate, the gerrymandering in favor of Republicans means that Democrats have to fight above their normal weight class in most districts. A more balanced high court could adjust that. Protosawiecz is also a judge who openly stands for progressive values.
At least, the GOP could no longer have a state top court to lean on. This April election could be the break in the dam that Wisconsin residents seriously need.
Nationally the Democrats stand a better than even chance of winning back the House and that looks like the Republicans’ own doing. Anyone who thought splitting the Congress between the two parties would be good news has learned differently in just a month of GOP control of the House.
The GOP barely won a House majority and is already squabbling about how to continue, launching investigations into the FBI, Hunter Biden and the origins of COVID (bats, pangolins, Chinese labs?) that most of the country find laughable. Republicans have inspired a genuine fear that Biden’s first two years will be the end of the road for him doing any good until he wins again in 2024. That potentially lost two years is the voters’ own fault given how a few but still too many treat Republicans as some sort of balancing party. Sorry, folks, that’s not today’s GOP.
But the Democrats will have to fight like hell to keep or grow seats in the Senate, where they have 51 voting with them out of 100. The election map is against the Dems.
And the House could well face more churns since there will be open Senate seats for Democrats in several states (not Virginia, apparently, since Tim Kaine now says he’s running).
Note the irony. Most of the Senate, even the progressive icons among them, are at the age to contemplate retiring. The Democrats do have a strong bench in some states that think about such things. But given the weight of the issues, the need for experience and the immediacy of how well he’s doing, the Democrats have good reason to stand by Joe.
About the author: Noth has been a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as an editor for its original Green Sheet, also for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He became the newspaper’s senior feature editor. He was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with still active archives at milwaukeelabor.org. In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as his Doms Domain dual culture and politics outlets. A member of the American Theatre Critics Association at its inception, he also reviews theater for Urban Milwaukee.