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Older Americans react to special counsel report on Biden

Bill Murphy, an 80-year-old retired veterinarian in suburban Phoenix, sometimes leaves blank the names he once could easily call, so sympathetic is he to President Biden, 81. But he was surprised when he saw Mr Biden defend his mental acuity at a press conference, only to join the presidents of Egypt and Mexico. Mr Murphy, a Republican, does not believe Mr Biden is suitable for another term.

Mary Meyer, an 83-year-old avid hiker and traveler who lives in the high desert north of Phoenix, had a problem. special counsel’s report Which portrayed him as elderly and forgetful – a similar impression that strangers in supermarkets sometimes make about his abilities.

“I look at him as a colleague,” said Ms. Meyer, who plans to vote for Mr. Biden. “I know what he is capable of doing. I know it’s not as bad as everyone thinks.”

For voters in their 70s and 80s, the new questions revolving around Mr Biden’s age and fitness resonated in deeply personal ways. The special counsel’s report cleared him of criminal charges over his handling of classified documents, but described him as a “sympathetic, well-intentioned, elderly man with a weak memory.”

Some of Mr Biden’s generational peers and supporters insist this characterization is nothing more than a deliberate political ploy to undermine his campaign and play on a perceived weakness. Many mentioned their vibrant and busy lives full of mental and physical activity.

The criticism of Mr Biden as forgetful and incapable of serving reflects the slights and discrimination he feels. Others thought about their own struggles as they turned 80, and questioned the ability of any 80-year-old to lead the country.

He said he knows what it feels like to be tired after a two-hour drive, to struggle to remember names and facts that come easily, to feel nervous climbing stairs or riding a bicycle. Republican and Democratic voters alike said they could not help but sympathize with Mr Biden’s verbal slips and the decisions that followed.

Despite efforts by the White House to discredit Mr. Biden’s portrait as forgettable, some voters worry about how a president his age will respond to the tensions of the wars in the Middle East and Ukraine in the coming years. The rigors of campaign rallies or enduring grueling overnight flights to summits around the world.

“What if he gets a call in the middle of the night that there has been a bombing, or there has been another shooting?” Mankato, Minn. asked Jan Culham, 83, a retired nurse from the U.S. who spends her winters in Arizona and describes herself as a conservative.

Polls show that many voters agree with his concerns. In a New York Times/Siena survey of six battleground states last fall, more than 70 percent of voters agreed with the statement that Mr. Biden, 81, is too old to be an effective president, although voters 65 and older were slightly more likely. Was less. Consider him too old. More than 60 percent of all voters surveyed did not think he had the mental acuity to be president. On that question, voters 65 and older were evenly divided.

On Friday, The Times spoke to about two dozen older voters about their views on age and the presidency, and received written responses on the topic from about 150 more. The reactions, while not scientific, suggest that some of Mr Biden’s supporters were influenced by the special counsel’s report, or his performance at the White House press conference reacting to it. Those concerned about Mr Biden’s age were already feeling anxious.

Many older Democrats and independent voters who responded said they were more concerned about Mr. Trump’s temperament than Mr. Biden’s age.

On Friday, Ms. Culham and a group of golf-loving, mah-jongg-players, mostly conservative friends from the Midwest, finished dinner at Panera in the Sun City area, a suburban Phoenix mecca for retirees and snowbirds. Was doing. There, residents shuttle from tee times to the woodworking course to the lap pool in golf carts.

Friends saw the upcoming election as a critical choice between what they called “grandfathers and lunatics”. He said he would prefer to write in Republican Nikki Haley or Liz Cheney rather than vote for Mr Biden or Mr Trump.

Asked if they wanted a younger option, they all said yes.

“You don’t hold back,” said Ms. Culham, who votes Republican but said she would never vote for Mr. Trump. “I don’t care how physically active you are, whether you take pills or not – your acuity at 80 is not as good as it is at 60. There’s a decline.”

“I don’t think the way I did when I was younger,” said Lorraine Blaise, 85. said Loren Blaze, who recently had to give up pickleball after an illness.

But other voters in their 70s and 80s said they still feel as mentally agile as those in their 50s and 60s, and have few concerns about Mr. Biden’s age. He pointed out that politicians of all ages – including Mr Trump – talk verbally and forget names and dates.

“I was in a situation where I was asked something on the spot and I stumbled here and there,” said Beverly Edmunds, 74, a Democrat and retired university administrator in Lithonia, Ga. “It happens, but it is not a reflection of intelligence or ability. It is exaggerated.”

To underscore that point, after the special counsel’s unflattering description of Mr. Biden, Democrats circulated videos showing Mr. Trump, Ms. Haley mixing with Nancy Pelosi and House Speaker Mike Johnson, 52. . mixture Israel and Iran.

Some older voters said it was unfair to judge Mr Biden solely on his age. But in an angry polarized and youth-obsessed culture, he was not surprised to see commentators dismiss Mr Biden as “”oscillator” And “out to lunch,” or so many voters consider him “too old” in opinion polls.

Ann Marie Cunningham, 86, a retired teacher and social worker in Chicago, said some of the criticism of Mr. Biden’s age arose from widespread prejudice against older people. When she was working in a nursing home in the early ’70s, she said a new manager fired many of the older employees, including her.

“Getting older is a liability,” Ms. Cunningham said.

She uses a walker to get around her high-rise building but says her mind is as clear as ever. Ms Cunningham, a registered Democrat who considers herself an independent, has expressed surprise at Mr Biden’s physical fitness in his 80s.

“He rides a bike!” He said. “I couldn’t ride a bike if my life depended on it.”

Still, she has noticed his verbal mistakes. When Ms. Cunningham was a teacher at a Catholic school in Chicago for 35 years, she had students like Mr. Biden who suffered from stuttering.

“Sometimes he forgets a word or messes things up,” she said, adding that she believes this is related to his early speaking difficulties. “It’s not easy.”

Mr Biden was not Ms Cunningham’s first choice for president. She voted for him with some reluctance, but is satisfied with his accomplishments in office, particularly reducing costs on prescriptions for older people, and said she would vote for him again.

But Harry W. Hepburn III, an 82-year-old watch repairman in Harrison, Maine, sees Mr. Biden’s age as a risk that puts the country at risk. Mr. Hepburn is sympathetic to the mistakes that come with age and is troubled when he sometimes forgets names, “when things used to come to me so quickly, like boom-boom-boom.”

A registered Republican, Mr. Hepburn voted for Mr. Trump in 2016 and 2020 and plans to vote for him again in November because of his efforts to restrict immigration and his business savvy, he said. He doesn’t think age has had any effect on Mr Trump yet.

Mr. Hepburn stays active by tossing a football with his grandchildren and still shovels snow from his porch roof. He said he felt exceptional for the 82, but did not believe the same was true of Mr Biden.

“I think he’s lost the ability to think on his feet,” Mr. Hepburn said as he continued tinkering with the clock in his workshop on Friday afternoon. “He scares me. Look how he walks – he walks like a man who doesn’t have it anymore. ,White House report of Mr. Biden’s 2023 physical He was described as a “healthy, vigorous 80-year-old man”.)

Even some Democratic supporters, like Sarah Shankman, an 80-year-old novelist in Santa Rosa, California, say they want Mr. Biden to leave the stage. How Ms Shankman compares to Mr Biden’s re-election bid Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg resisted calls to retire from the Supreme Court during the Obama administration, but she died and was replaced by Trump’s nominee.

“I think his heart is in the right place, but I think his ego has got in the way,” she said. “I think Biden is going to have a very difficult time facing the inevitable.”

opinion poll There are suggestions that Mr Biden’s older supporters are sticking with him, even as he loses support among younger voters upset over issues such as the war in Gaza.

“We all have deficits as a young person and have deficits as we get older,” said Linda Georgeson, a 74-year-old retiree and Democrat from Bayfield, Wisconsin.

As a court administrator, Ms. Georgeson adjudicated on cases involving the competency and abuse of elderly people, and came to believe that age does not necessarily determine mental acuity. After reading the special counsel’s report, she said, she felt insulted “on behalf of all older people.”

“I think it’s time in this country that we understand that everyone is going to age,” he said.

Halina Bennett contributed reporting.

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