Politics

Happy Birthday, Mr. President

Said in the least Marilyn Monroe–like voice possible.

A birthday cake with 80 candles that says Happy Birthday and features a picture of Joe Biden.
Photo illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo. Photos by Jupiterimages/iStock/Getty Images Plus and Samuel Corum/Getty Images.

Read the rest of our Happy Birthday, Mr. President package.

Happy birthday, Joe Biden! You made it: You are the oldest president. You were already the oldest president. You’re now the first eighty-year-old president. Wow!

How should you be feeling today? It is a bit of a bummer that you are not getting a big old party at the White House like so many previous presidents have, perhaps because your staff would prefer not to remind the public that you are indeed the most senior person to have ever held the role. But it’s still an opportunity to reflect and take stock of things.

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First, you are finally president. It’s one of the world’s most demanding and difficult jobs to attain. It’s been a lifelong goal of yours. And despite all that angling and planning, you were able to lock it down not because of anything particular to your resume or platform, but because you seemed like a relatively normal person who was at least somewhat grounded in reality.

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Then, somewhat ironically, you became mondo unpopular because of the most mundane, grounded-in-reality phenomenon in politics: American drivers getting mad about the price of gasoline.

Nonetheless, you can at this point take credit for several of your party’s largest-scale achievements in decades—laws which address problems they had described for years in campaign speeches as being extremely urgent but, until your term in office, not done anything about. It’s good stuff!

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And it largely got done for two reasons. The first is that you were in position to learn from the large-scale strategic failures of your Democratic predecessor, who, despite being widely seen as smarter and more charismatic and more historically important than you are, arguably got less done in eight years than you have in two. The second is that, after a frustrating first year in office, you gave up on driving the bus yourself and let Congress go do whatever, on its own. It worked out! Sometimes to truly master the Senate, you must let the Senate master itself.

Then, earlier this month, voters returned your party to power across the country—a historically non-disastrous showing—largely because of two other things you had very little to do with: An unpopular Supreme Court decision and the lingering weirdness and frankly unprecedented unpopularity of your 2020 opponent.

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Now, because the opposition party is taking control of the House of Representatives, but by a very narrow margin, you have two years of your term left to enjoy with neither the expectation that you will do much of anything, nor the threat that they will cause you too many problems.

You’re in a pretty good situation! Although, because politics and history are what they are, you could be in a terrible one a week, a month, or a year from now. Stranger and swifter turns of fate have taken place plenty of times before—to you!

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So what now? You have about a year to just coast—wearing cozy shirts in “candid” nighttime photos, acting as the affectionate grandpa to a party that is enjoying a shocking absence of internal turmoil, making foreign policy decisions of the sort that you can claim unequivocal credit for. But then you need to decide, like Nancy Pelosi just did, whether it is finally time to hand things over to your party’s youth movement, i.e. people who are only in their 50s.

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The actuaries would peg you as having about 8.7 years left on this Earth; do you want to potentially spend six of those running for president—during a regular, outdoors campaign, not one that can be executed primarily from a home office like it could in 2020—and then doing stuff like being blamed for the price of gas by 150 million people, responding to subpoenas from individuals who sincerely believe QAnon is real, and figuring out who is going to be the ambassador to the Maldives?

Aw, who are we kidding? Of course you want to do that stuff! You’re Joe Biden, and they are going to have to carry you out. Happy 80th!

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