Watching Biden, many see the heartbreaking indignities of aging

Watching Biden, many see the heartbreaking indignities of aging

The Washington Post reports:

President Biden shuffled onto the debate stage. He whispered, mumbled and repeatedly trailed off. When he wasn’t speaking, he stood slightly stooped, his mouth at times agape and his eyes flickering between apparent confusion and recognition. When his halting 90-minute 2024 debate debut was over, his wife took him by the hand, escorting him gingerly offstage.

Biden’s debate performance a week and a half ago set off a swirl of political angst and upheaval in the Democratic Party, prompting questions about whether he is up to the task of defeating Donald Trump in November and calls for him to drop out of the race.

But in some homes across the country, it also prompted more existential questions, with Biden, 81, becoming the unwitting archetype of many families’ aging relatives — a poignant reminder of the inherent fragility of the human condition and, for many watching, a heartbreaking tableau of a man in the sunset of his life.

Deborah Fries, 76, a retired state public information officer who lives in Philadelphia, said she began watching the debate but turned it off after just eight minutes: “I couldn’t bear to watch it,” she said.

For Fries, who watched her father, Harold C. Fries — a World War II veteran with a Bronze Star and Purple Heart — decline in his 70s before passing away in 1997, the debate also proved “kind of triggering for me to watch,” she said.

She remembers imagining her father “at the bottom of a cliff trying to claw his way back up” and said she saw similarities with Biden at the debate.

“That’s what makes watching this drama unfolding in the news so wrenching, because you know there’s not a way back up,” said Fries, a Democrat who said she’ll vote for Biden if he’s the Democratic nominee but would prefer a ticket featuring California Gov. Gavin Newsom at the top and Vice President Harris as his No. 2. “To watch someone unable to speak as they have spoken four years ago, or as they had spoken six months ago, it’s wrenching because it’s a reveal.”

In the days since the debate, the Biden White House and campaign have worked to contain the fallout. In some corners, the fury that Biden and his insular team allowed him to stumble into this situation just about four months from Election Day has overshadowed any genuine sympathy.

But watching Biden grapple with the indignities of aging on the largest possible stage has conjured an almost involuntary response from some people who have witnessed a beloved parent or grandparent slow down, falter and decline.

“Painful and sad: Those were my two words,” said Jean Moelter, 63, a retired high school English teacher from River Falls, Wis. “I felt sorry for him. I felt sorry as a human, as someone who shouldn’t have been put in that position.” [Continue reading…]

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