Guest columnist Dr. David Gottsegen: Age issue not so key as question of marbles

In this combination of photos, President Joe Biden, left, speaks on Aug. 10, 2023, in Salt Lake City, and former President Donald Trump speaks on June 13, 2023, in Bedminster, N.J.

In this combination of photos, President Joe Biden, left, speaks on Aug. 10, 2023, in Salt Lake City, and former President Donald Trump speaks on June 13, 2023, in Bedminster, N.J. AP PHOTO/ANDREW HARNIK


Published: 03-24-2024 2:16 PM

A poll published in The New York Times on Sunday, March 3, found that nearly half of voters now strongly agree that Joe Biden is “too old” to be president, more than twice the number of voters who strongly agree that Donald Trump is “too old.”

People have been fixated on Joe Biden’s gaffes and lapses in memory, especially since special prosecutor Robert Hur, a former Trump appointee, found that Biden was innocent of intentionally keeping classified documents in his home but decided to extemporaneously elaborate that he came across as a “well-meaning elderly man with a poor memory.”

His statement that he found it unusual that the president forgot the date that his son, Major Beau Biden, died of a brain tumor was not only cruel but ignorant. It is common for people to remember every detail about a loved one’s death, except, perhaps the date. Word retrieval and name finding worsens with age, as do other issues — stuttering being one of them — especially when we are under stress (Biden was interviewed by Hur for five hours the day after the Hamas attack in Israel.)

On the other hand, older people learn to ignore extraneous detail, and have learned a great deal more from experience, since they have had so many of them. That’s why there is wisdom with age.

Despite Biden’s gaffes, he has been with it enough to shepherd the Build Back Better Bill through a divided Congress, bring manufacturing back to the U.S., address climate change more than any legislation in history, and make long overdue infrastructure improvements throughout the country. He forged the first legislation addressing skyrocketing drug prices in this country. He oversaw the first White House summit on hunger in 50 years. He appointed the first Black woman to the Supreme Court.

Biden salvaged tattered relations with our friends around the globe. He took firm steps to counter inflation and avert a recession and has tried to bring debt relief to millions of college students and graduates.

Yet people continue to fixate on Joe Biden’s age. On Feb. 13, this newspaper featured an over-the-top grotesque political cartoon, featuring one of the president’s stick-like arms breaking off. Ha-ha. In other parts of the world, elders are cherished and honored for their wisdom; in this country they are treated as buffoons to be pitied, satirized, and discarded.

And what about Trump? People seem to concentrate on his more confident gait and manner. But what about the nasty word salad that comes out of his mouth?

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He repeatedly suggests that Barack Obama is still in office, or that he ran against him in 2016.

He has confused China and North Korea when he said that “Kim Jon Un leads 1.4 billion people, and there is no doubt about who the boss is.” He has described missile defense as “ding, ding, ding, boom, whoosh.”

When repeating the nonsensical claim that Nancy Pelosi was responsible for the security failures during the insurrection on the Capital that he led, he referred to her as “Nikki Haley” throughout the speech.

While everyone was focusing on Biden’s gaffes, in his news conference addressing the Hur report on Feb. 8, the news media seems to have ignored what Trump said at an NRA gathering in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the very next day, on Friday, Feb. 9. He began the speech by saying he had “a very nice Saturday afternoon,” went on to say he won in Pennsylvania twice (he didn’t win in 2020).

Then he said this: If he does not win this November, he claimed “we’re not going to have Pennsylvania. They’ll change the name.” What?

Finally, he said he liked the state capital, Harrisburg, because of its “powerful tractors,” and its marble, “(I know) all about the marbles — I can tell you every marble.”

As early as 2017, psychiatrists and fellow politicians, Republicans as well as Democrats were questioning Trump’s marbles. They were claiming that Trump had the makings of an autocratic dictator, a fact that he no longer keeps secret.

Even if Hur is correct, would you rather have a “well-meaning elderly man” with occasional memory lapses in the White House (who surrounds himself with an experienced, excellent staff) or a vicious and vindictive elderly man who is off his rocker, plans to end democracy in America, eliminate our last chance to address climate catastrophe, end Obamacare and any hope of reasonable gun control, cozy up to America’s enemies around the globe and bring “The Handmaid’s Tale” to fruition?

Dr. David Gottsegen of Belchertown is a physician at Holyoke Pediatric Associates.