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KING: The Political Class Is Hiding Behind Two Old Men

Even political junkies are feeling short of adrenaline. Two old men are stumbling toward November, spewing gaffes, garbled messages and misinformation as the political class cowers behind banners they don’t have the courage not to carry.

If you aren’t committed to Joe Biden or Donald Trump in a very fundamental way, it is a kind of torture — like being trapped in the bleachers during a long tennis match. The ball goes back and forth over the net, your head turns right, your head turns left. You watch CNN, turn to Fox, turn to MSNBC, turn back to CNN. You read The Washington Post, try The New York Times, then pick up The Wall Street Journal.

Over all hangs the terrible knowledge that this will end in a player winning who many think is unfit.

These two codgers are batting old ideas back and forth across the news. We know them too well. There is no magic here; nothing good is expected of either victory. Less bad is the goal, a hollow victory at best.

This is a replay. We can’t take comfort in the idea that the office will make the man. Rather, we feel this time, in either case, the office will unmake the man.

Both are too old to be expected to deliver in the toughest job in the world. Much of the attention about age has focused on Biden, but Trump is only three years his junior and doesn’t appear to be in good health, and he delivers incomprehensible messages on social media and in public speeches.

We know what we would get from a Biden administration: more of the same but more liberal. His administration will lean toward the issues he has fought for — climate, abortion, equality, continuity.

From Trump, we know what we would get: upheaval, international dealignment, authoritarian inclinations at home, and a new era of chaotic America First. The courts will get more conservative judges, and political enemies will be punished. Trump has made it clear that vengeance is on his to-do list.

One candidate or the other, we are facing agendas that say “back to the future.”

But that isn’t the world that is unfolding. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the late, great Democratic senator from New York, said “the world is a dangerous place.”

Doubly so now, when engulfing war is a possibility, when there is an acute housing crisis at home, and when the next presidency will have to deal with the huge changes that will be brought about by artificial intelligence. These will be across the board, from education to defense, from automobiles to medicine, from the electric power supply to the upending of the arts.

How have we come to such a pass when two old men dodder to the finish line? The fact is few expect Biden to finish out his term in good physical health, and few expect Trump to finish his term in good mental health.

How did we get here? How has it happened that democracy has come to a point where it seems inadequate to the times?

The short answer is the primary system, or too much democracy at the wrong level.

The primary system isn’t working. It is throwing up the extreme and the incompetent; it is a way of supporting a label, not a candidate. If a candidate faces a primary, the issue will be narrowed to a single accusation bestowed by the opposition.

What makes for a strong democracy is representative government — deliberation, compromise, knowledge and national purpose.

The U.S. House of Representatives is an example of the evil the primary system has wrought. Or, to be exact, the fear that the primary system has engendered in members.

The specter of former Rep. Liz Cheney, a conservative with lineage who had the temerity to buck the House leadership, was cast out and then got “primaried” out of office altogether, haunts Congress.

No wonder the political class shelters behind the leaders of yesterday, men unprepared for tomorrow, as a new and very different era unfolds.

There is a sense in the nation that things will have to get worse before they get better. A troubled future awaits.

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KING: Thoughts on Age in General and Biden’s in Particular

The case for Joe Biden to accept the inevitable dictates of his age and not run again is persuasive. Too much rests on the health and fitness of the president to turn it into a kind of roulette: When will his number come up?

Worse, what if Biden fails mentally and stays in office incognizant of his condition? Being the president of the United States is the most demanding and most responsible job in the world.

Winston Churchill got a second term as prime minister of Great Britain in 1951, and lots of stuff went wrong, from immigration policy to the growth of unchecked union power. History’s greatest prime minister had lost his acuity.

As I am older than Biden, I can say he should quit. I love to work, but there’s the rub: Not all people and all work are created equally. What I do isn’t critical and doesn’t decide the nation’s future or war and peace.

No one would suggest that an artist toss the easel at a predetermined retirement age. Noel Coward, the great English entertainer, said, “Work is more fun than fun.” That depends on the work.

Age is a complex equation for society, and retirement is a nettlesome problem. France is in revolt over President Emmanuel Macron’s move to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. Very reasonable, most Americans say.

The issue in France is simple: The French can’t afford huge state pensions any longer. There aren’t enough people at work to pay for those who have retired on their nearly full salaries. You can vote the population rich, but you can’t vote in new, young taxpayers to keep them rich. When the Social Security system falters in the next decade, America may be staring at the same sums as Macron.

Mandatory retirement is a crude way to manage the retirement dilemma. Some workers are genuinely unable to work into their 70s and 80s because their bodies, their minds or both are worn out. Others are at their most productive.

My father’s mind was fine, but he was a mechanic who had done everything from building steel structures to working in mines to repairing cars. His body failed around the age of 6o. He had been doing manual work since he was 13 years old, and he couldn’t bend, twist, delve, lift, climb, stretch, grab or do any of the myriad things he had done all his life to earn a living. He had to work in a school and then a shop; he loved the school but not the shop. But he had to work. That is what he did: He got up every day and went to work.

He had worked so long and so hard, primarily self-employed, that he hadn’t had time to learn leisure — to play golf, to watch ball games, to read for recreation, or even to learn how to socialize. That came with work or didn’t happen; friends were people at work.

A friend of mine, a nuclear engineer, reached mandatory retirement age and fell apart, much as my father nearly did. He, too, had no interests outside of his family and work and was lost in the post-job world.

Something of this same problem exists for people leaving the military. Their life is the military, and then, at an early age, there is no more of that life, their life.

When it comes to Biden, things are quite different.

I know the president slightly, and I like him personally. He loves the job. He has been at the peak of power for a long time. When his term ends, he should adjourn to his beach house in Delaware and write his memoirs.

Maybe someone will teach Biden how to play boules, a European form of bowls played by older people in parks. French boules aficionados would be happy to teach him the game. The French have a lot of time in retirement to perfect their play and travel to beach destinations. They would love to bring their skill to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Maybe I should join them.

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