• Daniel Ethan Finneran

Biden’s Longevity: Between William and Warren

“Heaven, from all creatures, hides the book of Fate,

All but the page prescribed—this, their present state” – Alexander Pope


While I acknowledge, humbly, the foolhardiness of trying to probe the depths a cloudy and distant fate, of prophesying a hazy and hidden future into which—despite their curiosity and their squinting strain—my eyes can never hope to peak, I can’t help occasionally gazing into these impenetrable deeps, and thinking I see obvious signs before me.


When I do so, as too often I do, it’s with the sure expectation that I might be met with a clear and luminous image, a distinct and sharp outline around which, without fear of tarnishing the integrity of the original and defiling the purity of its print, I can trace a finger, and settle my grasp. I imagine, with no great effort, I’ve discovered a brilliant and remarkable scene, a picture imperceptible to all, save me, to which I alone am sensitive and privy. It’s a form, I tell myself, whose contours only I can descry, and whose colors I’m uniquely capable of feeling. I do so to the envy and exclusion of all others to whom so subtle a sense has been denied.


I admit, I indulge this fruitless past-time, this presumptuous habit of forecasting things to come, when, as so often it is, the subject of President Joe Biden’s longevity is raised. The question, of course, over which, as this winter yields to spring, and the warmer days—as if to compensate for the months of cold—lather us in their balmy triumph, more and more people are beginning to ponder, is whether or not he’ll persist much longer in his current station? Will he, or will he not, endure until that far-off, almost unthinkable year of 2024, that time when votes will again be cast for a new, or an incumbent Commander-in-Chief?


Is his stamina so exhaustless, his mind so tempered, and his body so nimble, as to allow him to run at this present pace, along this current course, in order to meet so distant a date? Is his wit so sharp, and his balance so stable, as to wound an opponent, and withstand a fall? Is his nerve so electric, and are his muscles so conditioned, as to shock our enemies, and thrust every challenge aside? If I may continue one line further, if you’ll allow it, is his health so robust, his intellect so resilient, and his very genetics so remarkably sui generis as to deny that cruel despot, biology, yet another unwilling victim? As we know from our personal experience with her, biology is, in her unsmiling supremacy and unbending reign, never hesitant to reclaim that which belongs to her.


Given the mounting evidence of Mr. Biden’s worsening debility, a clear mental and physical decline against which, in the face of accumulating age beyond the seventh decade of life, nature—initially so bountiful a mother, yet ultimately so inflexible a shrew—provides her favorite species but little defense, it seems unlikely that a man so encumbered could deport himself in a competent, much less a presidential way. It seems improbable that he should succeed in resisting her for so long, and that she, suddenly generous, might retire her imperious claim.


This, I should say, is no criticism of the man himself—a man suddenly burdened by the heavy weight of his near-eighty years. Such, after all, is the common yoke of mortality, that shared iron collar, that dread fatal scarf, beneath which, as we move on earth toward some unified end, we all jointly trudge. He just so happens to be a somewhat distinguished elder at the helm of our federal government, and therefore susceptible to the full brunt of our criticism, as we observe him struggle to think, to speak, and to walk. That he, as the leader of the putatively free world, is a man upon whom age—so merciless a mistress—has decided to rest an unfriendly hand and lead into darkness, is a fact not to be overlooked. Rather, it must be faced with all the gravity for which this moment calls.


In listening to the opinions of one side—that by which Mr. Biden’s grandiose policies and soaring ambitions are received less warmly, and for which his early comparisons to Franklin Delano Roosevelt are a nettling cause of provocation and a constant source of unease—I’m told that his decline, described in such terms as those given above, is not just a figment of a right-winger’s crazed imagination. Rather, it’s real, it’s evident, and it’s upon us.


Republicans speak, perhaps too confidently, of Mr. Biden’s pending abdication, or his coming demise—an abandonment from his office, or an end to his life. They do so not with their ordinary tone of forbearance and conjecture, by which false prophecies and errant claims—once proven false or errant—can always be explained away. They do so, rather, with one of complete certitude and godly foresight. Of course, that’s not to say, on the whole, they openly wish for his death, as if their fiery partisanship had suddenly adopted a ghostly, homicidal hue. But they acknowledge the countervailing biological imperatives to which every man, including a President, must eventually submit. Admittedly, it’s a morbid thought, but not one to be ignored.


They judge the likelihood of him completing a single term (that will end as he advances to his eighty-second year) to be incalculably low, and thus beneath the threshold admitting of serious discussion. Truthfully, none entertains it—not even Mr. Biden himself. Granted, he proclaimed at his recent press conference that it was his intention to succeed his allotted tenure with an additional four years, but in the course of that same hour, he proclaimed many things. He uttered countless half-truths and a bevy of misrepresentations by which none but the most credulous or biased was convinced. As most agree, Mr. Biden’s pursuit of two terms would be a joke; a mere two years, as things stand, is enough tickle one’s humor. So aspirational a length of time, then, strikes both the grinning observer and the shrewd politician as inconceivable, and therefore laughable.


Being, though, that the book of fate is hidden, and that heaven, no matter the price offered, can’t be bribed to expose its cloudy contents to mortal eyes, one mustn’t take too seriously the fantastic claims of the Republicans who tell with certainty a fate that’s sure to come. Fate might be vengeful, but she’s never venal. She’ll not be induced by them, nor anyone, to divulge the secrets of her bosom, secrets into which clairvoyant pundits wrongly think they’re able to pry.


So as not to tempt fate, I’ll make a broader prediction. I foresee Mr. Biden’s administration, still so young in its life, falling somewhere between William and Warren: that is, William Henry Harrison and Warren G. Harding.


About the former, old Tippecanoe, little is remembered, save his valiant nickname and his terribly brief tenure in office. It lasted, as we all know, a full thirty-one days, a solitary month at whose conclusion he met an inglorious died. This father of Whigs, frontier warrior, Midwest statesman, and Indiana governor was dead at the youthful age of sixty-eight, an entire decade younger than our current president. Most attribute his premature end to the insalubrious conditions of his inauguration a month prior, but such posthumous conjecture is difficult to prove.


As for the latter, Warren G. Harding, a man upon whom history hasn’t found it fitting to bequeath so gallant a sobriquet, his tenure was interrupted in a similarly unexpected way. While traversing the Pacific coast, and enjoying the distance it created between him and scandal-ridden Washington D.C. in which he was daily enmeshed, he suffered abdominal pain of an acute and severe type. He took to bed in a different, more hospitable Washington—that on the nation’s northwest corner. Finding no remedy among its misty shores and scenic timbers, he was conveyed to San Francisco, where the prospects of better medical attention were brighter.


Alas, the golden beauty of San Francisco’s weather failed to restore him. He succumbed to the infirmity of his condition but a few days after having arrived. He died, astonishingly, at the nearly childlike age of fifty-seven—one decade Old Tippecanoe’s junior, and two decades behind Biden.


Of course, I don’t mean to predict that President Biden will die whilst in office—whether of pneumonia like Harrison, or (as our posthumous uncertainty suggests) of cardiac arrest like Harding. Never has my mind entertained so moribund a thought, and never would I tolerate so vile an idea. I use these two men not as examples according to whom Mr. Biden should live his life, and meet his death, but as a bracket of time between which his time in office might conceivably fall.


That’s to say, if I’m to put it bluntly, he’ll not complete one cycle in his present role. Three inauspicious signs lead me to this sobering conclusion (ignoring, of course, all those to which we were treated prior to his inauguration): His inability to name both the house of our military strategy and its center of deployment (the Pentagon) and the esteemed man by whom it’s currently run (Lloyd Austin); his thrice-thwarted attempt to climb a flight of stairs leading to the entrance of Air Force One; and his stultiloquent, babbling performance at the latest, and possibly last, press conference at which he spoke.


If just one of these displays, taken in isolation, were to be judged by the viewing and listening public, few would maintain the sanguine outlook which holds that Biden’s still up to the task. Combined, they draw a harrowing picture, a frightful image of which even his most fervent supporters can’t but take note. Frankly, he appears to be an old and fragile man, an elder toward whom our society and our politics should be more compassionate. We should hope that he retires to a restful and quiet place, one where the threat of injury to his name (brought on by the embarrassment of unintelligible speech) or his body (a consequence of ascending a flight of stairs or chasing a dog) is less.


Indeed, we can only make our predictions based on his present state—the only page prescribed to us, as we know. The present, in a word, is unpropitious, and though he’s outlived William Henry Harrison’s single month, I don’t expect him to see a time beyond Warren G. Harding’s three years.


That, however, is merely the opinion of one man, immodestly prophesying the hidden future.

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