Too old or just well seasoned? Biden tackles criticism of his age

Judging by his pugnacious performance at the weekend, Mr Biden appears to be looking forward to a gritty fight

President Joe Biden at the end of his speech to the White House Correspondents' Association dinner at the Washington Hilton on April 29. AP
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At the ripe age of 59, legendary baseball pitcher Satchel Paige played in his last major league game, setting an ongoing record for the oldest player.

He is credited with this pearl of ageing wisdom: "Age is a case of mind over matter — if you don’t mind, it don’t matter."

That appears to be President Joe Biden's mantra as he seeks a second term in the White House. At 80, Mr Biden is already the oldest American leader and would be 86 at the end of another four-year stint if he were to win next year.

He has been the subject of intense scrutiny about his age. Criticising the octogenarian's perceived mental acuity is now a favourite line of attack for the Republican Party, and many Democrats, even though Donald Trump is hardly a spring chicken at 76.

Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor who is running for president, last week suggested that Mr Biden would not survive a second term.

On Saturday night, he embraced the issue head on, laughing off the fact that polls show most Americans do not want him to run again, with concerns over his age a top reason.

Speaking at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner, an annual jamboree that brings 2,600 of Washington's political and media pooh-bahs together, Mr Biden paid tribute to the First Amendment, written in 1789 by founding father James Madison to guarantee the freedom of speech.

"I believe in the First Amendment – not just because my good friend Jimmy Madison wrote it," Mr Biden said.

He had plenty more to say on his advanced years.

Among the barbs he threw at right-wing cable network Fox News, for whom the president is its bete noire, Mr Biden went after the channel's owner Rupert Murdoch, who is 92.

"Look, I get that age is a completely reasonable issue. It’s on everybody’s mind," Mr Biden said. "You might think I don’t like Rupert Murdoch. That’s simply not true. How could I dislike the guy who makes me look like Harry Styles?"

Several Fox employees laughed at that one, but they were less amused when Mr Biden joked about their network having to pay Dominion $787.5 million in damages after it knowingly spread misinformation about the voting machine maker.

"Last year, your favourite Fox News reporters were able to attend because they were fully vaccinated and boosted. This year, with that $787 million settlement, they’re here because they couldn’t say no to a free meal," Mr Biden said.

He also had a laugh at the expense of CNN and its former host Don Lemon, who was fired after he called Ms Haley, 51, not “in her prime”.

"You call me old? I call it being seasoned," Mr Biden said. "You say I’m ancient? I say I’m wise. You say I’m over the hill? Don Lemon would say that’s a man in his prime."

Headlining comedian Roy Wood Jr also poked fun at Mr Biden's age, saying that the biggest scandal of his presidency was: "Is Joe Biden awake?"

The star-studded dinner is a highlight of the Washington social calendar and traditionally features a speech from the president.

At about $350 a head, the banquet consists of three courses and raises money for journalism scholarships and gives awards to White House reporters.

Mr Trump broke with tradition in declining to attend, and the event was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic.

Aside from addressing his age, Mr Biden used his speech to highlight several journalistic issues including the arrest on what the US says are bogus espionage charges of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich.

The crowd was a who's who of Washington's political elite but also featured celebrities and newsmakers, such as US basketball player Brittney Griner, who was released from Russian prison last year. She received a standing ovation as Mr Biden touted her release.

But in an awkward moment for some media outlets in the ballroom, Mr Biden drew disapproval from several guests when he took aim at right-wing media outlets for spreading what he said were lies and misinformation.

Biden condemns 'extreme press' during White House Correspondents' dinner

Biden condemns 'extreme press' during White House Correspondents' dinner

"A poison is running through our democracy and parts of the extreme press. The truth buried by lies, and lies living on as truth," he said.

"Lies told for profit and power. Lies and conspiracy and malice repeated over and over again, designed to generate a cycle of anger, hate and even violence."

Mr Biden may not be a popular choice among Democrats and is wildly unpopular among Republicans.

But judging by his pugnacious performance on Saturday, he appears to be ready for a long fight. Don't count the old man out yet.

Published: May 01, 2023, 2:00 AM