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Will (should) Biden run for a second term?


I personally think Biden has done a pretty good job overall in the first year and a half of his term, under extremely difficult circumstances. Obviously if he decides to run again then that’s the end of the conversation; just as obviously a lot can happen between now and the fall of 2023, which is realistically the latest point at which he needs to make the decision.

Still, I have mixed feelings at this point about a re-election bid.

First, it’s important to note that although we’re naturally talking about a very small sample size, there’s really no evidence of an incumbency advantage for modern presidents. Since the passage of the 22nd amendment, only five six of the 11 12 presidents who could have been elected to another term have been. So talk of how a purported incumbency advantage should be a major factor in this analysis really has no basis, except by analogy to the much different dynamics of other kinds of elections.

Second, all other things being equal, a presidency spent in the person’s mid-80s is just a really dubious idea. As I’ve mentioned before, the big issue with health problems and aging is the risks involved tend to be exponential rather than linear. An 85 year old is only 13% older than a 75 year old in purely mathematical terms, but all sorts of health risks are literally several hundred percent higher for those in the former age group relative to those in the latter. This isn’t only a matter of mortality or dementia risk either, although those are the most obvious concerns in this context. Basically, really old people get really sick and frail in all sorts of ways, and president of the United States isn’t the kind of job where you can just sort of fake doing it and nothing very bad will happen, unlike some cough law professor cough forms of employment I could name.

Third, a major factor in Biden’s successful run for the presidency two years ago was a longing for a return to something that felt like normalcy. That was very understandable, but the illusion that if you could just get Donald Trump out of office the Republican party would stop turning into an authoritarian ethno-nationalist theocratic crypto-quasi-flat-out fascist entity has been revealed in the most stark possible way to be just that. It could be that Joe Biden was the right man for the moment in 2020 but might not anything like the best candidate for the world of 2024.

Again, I’m thoroughly agnostic on all this for the present, but I think it’s worth discussing, at least on a blog on a summer Friday afternoon.

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