McManus: Is Biden a killer stubborn or an actual stubborn?

Today is Joe Biden’s 80th birthday. Our first president in the 1980s was two years older than Ronald Reagan when his presidency ended in 1989.

Biden is still fit and energetic, but he’s also showing his age. His hair is thinner, his gait is stiffer, and his speech is a little more slurred than when he arrived in the White House nearly two years ago.

One thing hasn’t changed: He’s a famous stubborn.

Now that he was eighty years old, it might be fair to describe him as a stubborn old man.

Ask anyone who works with Biden, and you’ll hear a version of the same description: He listens to dissenting voices, but once he makes up his mind, he’s almost unwavering.

“One thing I learned quickly,” one former aide told me, “don’t tell Joe Biden what he’s going to say.”

When he is wrong, this stubbornness may be his worst vice. When he is right, his virtues may be his most useful.

Biden’s stubbornness has helped steer his presidency into some of the deepest holes.

Disaster produced the US withdrawal from Kabul, when Biden rejected the army’s pleas for a delay. (He was later asked if he thought he made mistakes in Afghanistan, and he said, “No”)

He shook public confidence when he prematurely declared victory over the COVID-19 pandemic, even as federal experts warned the disease was still spreading.

This year, it sent his popularity plummeting when he ignored warnings of rising inflation and stuck to an economic message — “things are better than you think” — that seemed detached from voters’ lives.

But there is also a form of stubbornness that is beneficial – a trait often called perseverance or perseverance. The president has that too.

His continued support of Ukraine as it battled a Russian invasion made him the undisputed leader of a revitalized NATO.

This fall, Biden decided the most important issue in the midterms was democracy—defending constitutional norms against the extremism of “Maga Republicans.”

“What we’re doing now is determining whether democracy can last long,” he said in one of his many campaign speeches.

Critics and political strategists criticized the message, arguing that elections would be decided on economic issues, rather than abstract ideas about democracy.

But when the returns came in, it turned out that Biden was more right than wrong. An Associated Press poll found that democracy was second only to inflation among voter concerns. A surprisingly high share of voters dissatisfied with the economy voted for the Democrats, enabling them to retain control of the Senate and lose fewer seats than expected in the House of Representatives.

In a press conference after the election, the president was asked if he saw any need to adjust his course based on the lessons of his first two years.

He said, “I will not change.”

Not surprisingly, Biden’s midterm campaign theme is an updated version of his 2020 presidential campaign message: Step Up to Constitutional Standards, Reject Donald Trump’s Extremism.

In that campaign, candidate Biden won the Democratic nomination through sheer stubbornness as well. He finished fourth in Iowa and a disastrous fifth in New Hampshire, but he stuck to a strategy based on winning over black voters in South Carolina and outrunning his rivals.

Long before 2020, tenacity in the face of adversity was at the heart of the Biden story. His patriotic political career began in tragedy when his wife and daughter were killed in a traffic accident shortly before he was sworn in as a senator. He suffered from a brain aneurysm. He lost his first two attempts to win the Democratic presidential nomination – badly – but came back for a third.

Now, at the start of yet another presidential campaign, Biden’s stubbornness is on display again: Will he run for re-election in 2024 at the age of 82?

The president has said repeatedly that he intends to run, and it turns out he meant it all along.

“Our intention is to run again,” he said after the midterm. “That was our intention regardless of the outcome of this election.”

People around him say the midterm results as well as Trump entering the race are just confirmation of a decision Biden has already made.

Nothing makes it more challenging than critics saying it’s lost its stuff; Nothing makes him more excited than another chance to defeat Trump.

“He feels like he’s the only one who’s been beaten [Trump] before,” his former press secretary Jen Psaki said on MSNBC.

Asked if polls showing most voters don’t want him to run would influence his thinking, Biden said: “No.”

In a CNN poll conducted on Election Day, 67% of voters said they did not want Biden to run again. But among Democratic voters – who will decide the party’s nominee – 57% said they want Biden to run. 38% said they did not. This suggests that the president is starting the race as a clear favourite.

As for his age, Biden recently said, “It’s a legitimate thing to be concerned about.”

“I think the best way to pass judgment is to watch me. Am I slowing down?” he said. “This is not how I feel.”

Is stubbornness the vice that can lead to disaster? Or is perseverance the virtue that leads to hard-earned success?

Don’t ask Biden. He is not the best judge. All he knows is that stubbornness—well, perseverance—has worked for him so far.

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