Does Washington Have Senioritis?

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Julia Ioffe
November 30, 2021

Shortly before pardoning the Thanksgiving turkeys at the White House, President Joe Biden temporarily transferred the power of his office to Vice President Kamala Harris while he underwent a routine colonoscopy. It was part of his annual physical, during which Biden was found to have a small, benign polyp, some acid reflux, and arthritis. These were utterly unremarkable medical findings for a 78-year-old man, except that this particular senior citizen happens to be the oldest man ever elected to the presidency, one whose age and supposed senility are often speculated about and used as a cudgel by his political enemies and regularly mocked by late-night hosts. 

The exam had the bad fortune to coincide with a poll, released just two days prior, that showed that, despite the evidence, 50 percent of Americans think Biden is not in good health, and 48 percent feel that the Commander in Chief is not mentally fit. It seemed to be why Biden’s physician made a point of declaring the president “vigorous” and “healthy” on the eve of his 79th birthday. It also made one understand why Donald Trump had been quietly spirited away from the White House for his own colonoscopies, popping up at Walter Reed Hospital without ever explaining why he was there or transferring presidential authority to Mike Pence

According to many of Biden’s Republican opponents, the colonoscopy was just more proof—alongside his falling asleep at the COP26 summit and mispronouncing Kyrsten Sinema’s name—that the president is so old as to be barely present. In this conspiracy theory, an incapacitated Biden is little more than a Trojan horse for the radical left, which Harris’s brief tenure at the helm seemed to confirm. It’s a strange line of attack given that, before Biden was sworn into office, Trump had been the oldest president to date. In fact, Trump is just three-and-a-half years younger than Biden, a blink in time when you’ve been on earth for that many decades. And, of course, Democrats who defend Biden forget that they leveled the same attacks at Trump when he was in office. There was the time he plodded down a ramp at a campaign rally or used both hands to raise a glass of water to his lips. There were the Adderall rumors. There was “person, woman, man, camera, TV.” Each time, Trump’s opponents lost their minds with glee—much as Biden’s opponents do now.