Biden, on track to be oldest president in history, turns 78 today

President-elect Joe Biden turns 78 on Friday and is on track to be the oldest U.S. president in history, displacing Ronald Reagan.


President-elect Joe Biden turns 78 on Friday and is on track to be sworn in as the oldest president in the nation’s history, displacing Ronald Reagan, who left the White House in 1989 when he was 77 years and 349 days old.

He’ll take the reins of a politically fractured nation facing the worst public health crisis in a century, high unemployment and a reckoning on racial injustice.

As he wrestles with those issues, Biden will also be attempting to accomplish another feat: demonstrate to Americans that age is but a number and that he’s up to the job.


The age and health of both Biden and President Trump — less than four years Biden’s junior — loomed throughout a race that was decided by a younger and more diverse electorate and at a moment when the nation is facing no shortage of consequential issues.

Out of the gate, Biden will be keen to demonstrate he’s got the vigor to serve.

“It’s crucial that he and his staff put himself in the position early in his presidency where he can express what he wants with a crispness that’s not always been his strength,” said Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University who has advised legislators from both parties. “He has got to build up credibility with the American people that he’s physically and mentally up to the job.”

President Trump and Joe Biden are so healthy they could be long-living ‘super-agers,’ a new study suggests. But it also fears the two campaigns will continue to ‘weaponize’ the age issue.

In a September interview with CNN, Biden promised to be “totally transparent” about all facets of his health if elected, but he hasn’t said how he’ll do that.

His campaign tried to make the case that Biden isn’t your average septuagenarian. In a medical report released by the campaign last December, Biden’s physician, Dr. Kevin O’Connor, described him as “healthy, vigorous … fit to successfully execute the duties of the Presidency, to include those as Chief Executive, Head of State and Commander in Chief.”

O’Connor reported that Biden works out five days a week. The president-elect told supporters that during the pandemic he has relied on home workouts involving a stationary bike, treadmill and weights.

In 1988, Biden suffered two life-threatening brain aneurysms, an experience that, as he wrote in his memoir, shaped him into the “kind of man I want to be.” O’Connor also noted in his report that Biden has an irregular heartbeat, but it has not required any medication or other treatment. He also had his gall bladder removed in 2003.

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To demonstrate his health, Reagan made sure that the public saw him chopping wood and riding horses. Trump, after being diagnosed with the coronavirus, quickly returned to a busy campaign schedule, holding dozens of crowded rallies in battleground states in the final weeks of the campaign.

In 1841, William Henry Harrison, 68, attempted to show off his vigor by delivering a lengthy inaugural address without a coat or hat. Weeks later, Harrison, then the oldest president elected in U.S. history, developed a cold that turned into the pneumonia that would kill him just a month into his presidency. It’s disputed whether Harrison’s illness was related to his inaugural address.

Throughout the campaign, Trump, 74, didn’t miss a chance to highlight Biden’s gaffes and argue that the Democrat lacked the mental acuity to lead the nation. Both critics and some backers of Biden worried that he was sending the wrong message about his stamina by keeping a relatively light public schedule while Trump barnstormed battleground states. Biden attributed his light schedule to being cautious during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some of Biden’s rivals in the Democratic primary also raised the question of whether someone of Biden’s and Trump’s generation was the right person to lead a nation dealing with issues such as climate change and racial inequality.

Brian Ott, a Missouri State University communications professor who studies presidential rhetoric, said Biden was hardly impressive as a campaigner but has proven far more effective with his public remarks since election day.

Ott said Biden’s victory speech was poignant, and his empathy showed in a virtual discussion that he held this week with front-line healthcare workers. The president-elect’s experience — a combination of age and nearly 50 years in politics — comes across more clearly through the prism of governing than the chaos of campaigning, he said.

“The rhetoric of governing, unlike the rhetoric of campaigning, is collaborative rather than adversarial,” Ott said.