McManus: Is Biden fatally cussed or virtuously tenacious?

Right this moment is Joe Biden’s eightieth birthday. Our first octogenarian president is 2 years older than Ronald Reagan was when his presidency resulted in 1989.

Biden remains to be match and energetic, however he’s additionally exhibiting his age. His hair is thinner, his gait stiffer, his speech a little bit extra garbled than when he arrived within the White Home virtually two years in the past.

One factor hasn’t modified: He’s famously cussed.

And now that he’s 80, it’s most likely honest to explain him as a cussed previous man.

Ask anybody who’s labored for Biden, and also you’ll hear a model of the identical description: He listens to dissenting voices, however as soon as he’s made up his thoughts, he’s virtually unshakable.

“One thing I learned quickly,” a former aide advised me, “you don’t tell Joe Biden what to say.”

When he is fallacious, that stubbornness could also be his worst vice. When he’s proper, it could be his most helpful advantage.

Biden’s stubbornness has helped steer his presidency into a few of its deepest potholes.

It produced the debacle of the U.S. withdrawal from Kabul, when Biden dismissed pleas from the army for delay. (Requested later if he thought he had made errors in Afghanistan, he mentioned: “No.”)

It shook public confidence when he prematurely declared victory over the COVID-19 pandemic, whilst federal specialists warned that the illness was nonetheless spreading.

This yr, it drove his reputation down when he disregarded warnings of rising inflation and caught to an financial message — “things are better than you think” — that appeared disconnected from voters’ lives.

However there’s additionally a type of stubbornness that’s helpful — a trait extra typically referred to as persistence or tenacity. The president has that, too.

His persistent assist for Ukraine because it battles a Russian invasion has made him the undisputed chief of a reinvigorated North Atlantic Treaty Group.

This fall, Biden determined a very powerful situation within the midterm elections was democracy — the protection of constitutional norms in opposition to the extremism of “ultra-MAGA Republicans.”

“What we’re doing now is going to determine whether democracy will long endure,” he mentioned in certainly one of a number of marketing campaign speeches.

Pundits and political strategists criticized the message, arguing that the election can be selected financial points, not abstractions about democracy.

However when the returns got here in, Biden turned out to be extra proper than fallacious. An Related Press ballot discovered that democracy ranked a detailed second to inflation amongst voters’ considerations. A surprisingly excessive proportion of voters sad concerning the economic system voted for Democrats nonetheless, enabling them to retain management of the Senate and lose fewer seats than anticipated within the Home.

At a postelection information convention, the president was requested whether or not he noticed any want to regulate his course based mostly on the teachings of his first two years.

“I’m not going to change,” he mentioned.

Biden’s midterm marketing campaign theme, unsurprisingly, was an up to date model of the message of his 2020 presidential marketing campaign: a pitch for constitutional norms, a rejection of Donald Trump’s extremism.

In that marketing campaign, candidate Biden gained the Democratic nomination by sheer stubbornness, too. He completed fourth in Iowa and a disastrous fifth in New Hampshire, however caught with a technique that relied on successful Black voters in South Carolina and outlasting his rivals.

Lengthy earlier than 2020, persistence within the face of adversity was the core of Biden’s story. His nationwide political profession started in tragedy when his spouse and daughter had been killed in a site visitors accident shortly earlier than his swearing-in as a senator. He endured two mind aneurysms. He misplaced his first two makes an attempt to win the Democratic presidential nomination — badly — however got here again for a 3rd strive.

Now, at first of one other presidential marketing campaign, Biden’s stubbornness has surfaced once more: Will he run for reelection in 2024 at almost 82?

The president has mentioned repeatedly that he intends to run, and it seems he meant all of it alongside.

“Our intention is to run again,” he mentioned after the midterm returns had been in. “That’s been our intention regardless of what the outcome of this election was.”

Individuals round him say the midterm outcomes plus Trump’s entry into the race merely confirmed a call Biden had already made.

Nothing makes him extra defiant than critics saying he’s misplaced his stuff; nothing makes him extra keen than one other likelihood to defeat Trump.

“He feels like he’s the only one who’s beaten [Trump] before,” his former Press Secretary Jen Psaki mentioned on MSNBC.

Requested whether or not polling that exhibits most voters don’t need him to run will have an effect on his pondering, Biden mentioned: “It doesn’t.”

In a CNN exit ballot on election day, 67% of voters mentioned they didn’t need Biden to run once more. However amongst Democratic voters — those who will determine on the celebration’s nominee — 57% mentioned they wished Biden to run; 38% mentioned they didn’t. That means the president begins the race as a transparent favourite.

As for his age, Biden mentioned just lately, “It’s a legitimate thing to be concerned about.”

“I think the best way to make the judgment is to watch me. Am I slowing up?” he mentioned. “That’s not how I feel.”

Is that stubbornness, the vice that may result in catastrophe? Or is it tenacity, the advantage that results in hard-earned success?

Don’t ask Biden; he’s not the perfect choose. All he is aware of is that stubbornness — OK, tenacity — has labored for him thus far.