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It's time for Joe Biden to lean into his age and experience

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WASHINGTON -

The report into U.S. President Joe Biden’s handling of classified documents only exacerbates the growing whispers surrounding the commander-in-chief's age. Special counsel Robert Hur’s stinging assessment of the president’s mental acuity compounds the damage regarding his fitness to serve.

With quiet murmurs morphing into banshee-level screaming, it is time the president took a page from the Trump playbook. The ex-president took four criminal indictments, 91 total charges, a slew of multimillion-dollar civil judgements, turned it into political gold and is now on the cusp of becoming the GOP presidential nominee.

Some polls, in fact, show Trump leading the current White House occupant. Perhaps by leaning into senior citizens status, that could be just the antidote the Biden campaign needs to not only quiet the naysayers but create meaningful separation from his chief political antagonist.

Both men, however, are very close in age as they are only four years apart. Biden is 81; Trump is 77. Nevertheless, it is Biden, not Trump, taking the lion's share of criticism and questions on the issue of age. It is perhaps the biggest reason Biden’s poll numbers are perennially under 40%, putting his current prospects of re-election in jeopardy.

Meanwhile, voters over 65 years of age make up over 25% of the voting electorate. Moreover, according to a study by Pew Research Center examining voting patterns from the 2022 midterm elections, voters age 65 and over remain the most reliable voting block in the United States.

Perhaps, then, Biden’s biggest weakness might not in fact be his age; but his seeming unwillingness to align himself with the biggest bloc of voters that could relate to his plight.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama’s seminal speech on race was a moment that will be bookmarked for history. Then-candidate Obama stood before the nation and proceeded to confront perhaps the single biggest challenge to his candidacy.

Then-senator Barack Obama speaks at a charity event in New York, in this Dec. 4, 2006 file photo. His speech on race moved many, including Maya Angelou who called it "fantastic" and "historic." (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Meeting the moment to move the electorate to its aspirational zenith, he navigated the nation’s long and complicated history on race, meeting the moment head-on.

In this file photo dated Jan. 20, 1961, U.S. President John F. Kennedy delivers his inaugural address at Capitol Hill in Washington, after taking the oath of office. (AP Photo, File)

Before President Obama, John F. Kennedy -- before he could become the father of Camelot -- had to assuage the fears and concerns of a weary nation that electing a catholic (yes, a catholic) to the Oval Office would not prove fatal to the country.

In this July 17, 1980, file photo, then Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan stands before a cheering Republican National Convention in Detroit's Joe Louis Arena. (AP Photo/Rusty Kennedy)

The godfather of modern-day republicanism, Ronald Reagan, undoubtedly took on the greatest role of his life convincing the nation that a B-level actor could resolutely serve as leader of the free world.

Great president’s reach meteoric heights and legendary status not only because they meet the challenges confronting a nation and the world, but also because they meet the challenges from within.

Obama’s race; Kennedy’s religion; Reagan’s career; not only challenged their candidacies but challenged their worth as people. Yet, each man refused to be reduced to something less than. They accepted the challenge and showed the country that what might be seen as debilitating was, in fact, empowering. Donald Trump, in his own way and unconventionally, carved out a path the same way other presidents had to carve out theirs. Now, it is President Biden’s turn.

The oldest president in American history must now travel the road paved by his predecessors. Doing so requires introspection. Confronting fears; staring down doubts; and facing-off with failure. President Biden is a man that has slayed all of these demons throughout his life. Losing a wife and child; mourning the death of a son taken in the prime of his life; and witnessing another son raked over the political coals, helpless to do anything, all the while, amassing achievements that far outweigh any president this century.

U.S. President Joe Biden walks with first lady Jill Biden before he boards Air Force One, Friday, Feb. 16, 2024, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez)

Now, the 81-year old stands at the precipice.

In 2020 his battle was “…for the soul of this nation,” but now before he can adequately go into battle one last time, he must first do battle within. Come to terms with his age. Accept the infirmities and ailments that come with being elderly. Moments of memory loss; a struggling gait; depleted energy levels. There’s dignity in aging. Triumph in longevity. Take comfort in a life well-lived. He must come to terms with his age, but also prove to the American people that it isn’t a liability, but a strength.

Biden served as vice-president to one president that confronted and overcame his own challenges. He was senate colleagues with the would-be heir to Camelot (Senator Ted Kennedy) who tried, yet failed, to reach the pinnacle of political power like his brother (John F. Kennedy) before him. The man from Scranton, Penn. has seen both sides of this presidential fight. Now, he must choose a side.

Special counsel Robert Hur’s report into Biden’s handling of classified documents states:

“…Mr. Biden has long seen himself as a historic figure…He believed his record during decades in the Senate made him worthy of the presidency…”

Biden helped the nation’s first Black president lead the country through two wars all the while navigating economic calamity not seen since the Great Depression. Not stopping there, he then made history on his own as the nation’s oldest U.S. president and guided America through a global pandemic the likes the world hasn’t seen in a century. Further cementing validity to Hur’s gratuitous comments.

Walking a picket line with union workers spoke to the middle class. Picking a woman to serve as his vice-president allowed young girls of colour to dream. Still, so many elderly are still waiting. Waiting for Biden to be the voice that Obama was validating his race to millions of uneasy voters. Waiting for Biden to be the voice that Kennedy was, validating his religion to millions uneasy with electing a Catholic. Waiting for him to be that voice like Reagan validating his earlier profession to millions uneasy with electing a former actor.

As the president sets to face-off against his chief nemesis, the moment has now come for Biden, like Trump and others, to lean into that which others see as an impediment. Maybe, just maybe, if he allows himself to first be led, voters will reward him by allowing him to lead.

Eric Ham is a bestselling author and former congressional staffer in the U.S. Congress. He served as a contributor to TheHill.com and The Washington Diplomat. He resides in Washington, DC.

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