Telling Joe Biden he is too old to drive

It was a difficult conversation, but it was a message that had to be delivered by someone who cared. I had to tell my elderly father that after over 65 years of driving, he could no longer drive a car. His unsteadiness not only created risks for him but endangered others on the road.

While I respected his desire to manage his own life, I realized that it would be irresponsible of me not to intervene. And when he complained that if he couldn’t drive he wouldn’t be able to get around, I had to remind him of the availability of taxis and public transportation as an alternative.

The Democratic leadership is in a similar situation: It’s become irresponsible of them not to confront President Joe Biden to tell him that he too should no longer attempt to drive for the next five years. Only in his case it is not a car he should no longer drive, but the country.

Democrats can remind Biden that, like my father, he has alternatives. If he is no longer a candidate, he could become a more effective campaigner against Trump and the danger he poses to our country and Biden’s national security agenda. Indeed, in this context, Biden’s image as an “elderly” statesman who has devoted his life to public service, advocating for what is best for the country and not himself, is arguably a positive.

The rationale for Democratic leaders to deliver this message is not that Biden is incapable of being president. I have actively supported Joe Biden in each of his three runs for the presidency since 1987. And if he remains in the race, I would support him today. He has navigated extraordinary domestic and international challenges, delivered major legislative accomplishments that will position the country for the future and, while the battle against inflation is not over, has captained the most impressive post-Covid economic recovery of any advanced country.

Biden’s problem is both obvious and well reported. Forget about Republicans, the overwhelming majority of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents do not want him to run. They just think he is too old to be elected for another term. Indeed, the reason that Special Counsel Robert Hur’s characterization of Biden as “a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory” has created such a problem for him is precisely because it verbalizes what so many Democrats already believe to be the case. And while inflation may continue to go down, and the politics of the border may improve over the coming months, President Biden will not get any younger.

The special counsel’s report can be a blessing in disguise if it causes Democratic leaders to have the kind of difficult conversation I once had with my father. Given how critical it is to defeat an ever more dangerous Trump, further delay is wrong. If the president is still the presumptive nominee next month, No Labels may still go ahead with its reckless third-party plan to nominate someone, even though Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) says it will not be him.

There is no doubt that the process of selecting a replacement candidate at this late date would be challenging and messy. But, as is the case with most difficult decisions, there are serious downsides to all the alternatives. The unprecedented lack of enthusiasm for Biden’s candidacy potentially not only dooms his reelection, but drags down Democratic candidates in difficult House and Senate races. Such a result would be more devastating for Democrats than a messy selection process that produces a next-generation candidate able to generate more enthusiasm in November. Indeed, Democrats generally do better with next-generation candidates like Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Biden’s current situation has been aptly described as like watching a car crash in slow motion. If that is the case, the responsibility of Democratic leaders is to step in and try to prevent that crash from becoming fatal.

Richard J. Davis is an attorney. He was assistant secretary of the Treasury in the Carter administration and an assistant Watergate special prosecutor.

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