In the age of COVID-19, do we want our leaders to be vulnerable and in their 70s

Apr 18, 2020 | Politics

By Jessica A. Levinson | Special to CalMatters

I am all in for former Vice President Joe Biden to be the next president of the United States. But let’s explore an alternative reality in which Biden, generously and selflessly, throws his support behind another politician to be the Democratic nominee.

First, I am all in for almost any functional adult who runs against President Donald Trump. Let’s be honest, if the woman who lives down the street who just smiled and waved while we passed each other from a physically safe distance runs against Trump, I will be all in for her.

So yes, perhaps my bar has been so drastically lowered that I’m just looking for someone who does not put our country and its citizens at daily risk. The chances that my seemingly-kind neighbor, who apparently takes a pandemic seriously, fits this category is pretty low. When it comes to the current occupant of the White House, we know for sure he is the poster child for this type of behavior.

Even acknowledging my too-low-to-limbo bar, let’s not take anything away from Biden. He served our country for decades. And I do mean decades. He has been in public office for nearly half a century. That is about a dozen years longer than the current median age of an American.

This is the part where you say – Is this just one of those articles arguing that Biden, who will be 78 a few weeks after Election Day, is too old to be president? And the answer is – kind of.

Biden’s age has obviously been on everyone’s minds since he announced his candidacy, but now, more than ever we put ourselves in a precarious position by nominating someone in their mid-’70s for the nation’s highest office.

And here is the part where I state the obvious. Trump and Biden are only a little over three years apart. So any arguments I make about Biden’s age apply with equal weight to Trump.

In case anyone forgot for a social-distanced-nanosecond, we are in the middle of a global pandemic. People in Trump and Biden’s age range are at significant increased risk for complications and death from COVID-19, not to mention a whole host of other medical issues. Now is not the ideal time to have a historically old leader.

But again, let me be clear, I’d support a 90-year-old with a basic moral compass against Trump.

This is not in any way an argument against Biden or in favor of Trump. This is an argument in favor of the next generation.

Republicans would be wise, for about 17,000 reasons, to nominate someone other than Trump, and preferably a younger candidate. But they won’t. The speed and consistency with which they have fallen in line behind Trump is perhaps one of the most disappointing aspects of the current administration.

Democrats, for fewer reasons, would be wise to nominate a member of the new generation of politicians. It is not too late.

Biden could, at the Democratic National Convention, ask his delegates support another candidate. Could this be seen as anti-Democratic? Would the many who voted for Biden have cause to say the rug was pulled out from under them? Absolutely. But if the conventional wisdom that the most important thing to Democrats (and many Independents) is the ability to beat Trump, these voters might be persuadable, even excited, by another option.

If you type “can democrats nominate …” into a Google search, it will autofill to “Cuomo.” But that is not where I am going.

Our very own governor, Gavin Newsom, would be a better choice. Newsom has faced our pandemic head on. He has led the nation in taking steps to protect Californians, even when it looked like he might be overreacting and needlessly wreaking economic havoc on our state.

Newsom has taken responsibility for short-comings, like too few testing sites. He has led the nation in securing and sharing respirators with other states. He has walked a proverbial tightrope by keeping a warm enough relationship with Trump to allow Californian’s to obtain at least some of the federal resources we need. He has declared that California is a nation-state and is acting accordingly.

Newsom is not a flawless candidate (no one is), but he has made a career of being a half a step ahead of where public opinion will eventually land. Think of gay rights, the death penalty or gun control. Newsom does not look like a politician who reads public polling and then makes decisions. He has led. This could be his moment.

Let’s end where we began. Biden would be an infinitely better president than Trump. If there is a word that is stronger than infinite, that is the word we should use to explain the vast difference between Biden and Trump.

But this does not have to be our choice. Biden could make his crowning achievement be the selfless act of turning over the nomination to a proven leader from the next generation – Newsom.

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Jessica A. Levinson is a professor at Loyola Law School and director of Loyola’s Public Service Institute, jessica.levinson@lls.edu. @LevinsonJessica. Levinson wrote this commentary for CalMatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s Capitol works and why it matters.

The author wrote this for CalMatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s Capitol works and why it matters.

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