WASHINGTON — Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a cautionary tale.
She missed the moment to leave the stage, ignoring friendly nudges from Democrats and pleas from Obama allies. She fell in love with her late-life image as a hip cultural icon: “Notorious RBG,” the octogenarian cancer survivor who could hold 30-second planks. She thought she was the indispensable person, and it ended in disaster. His death opened the door to the most conservative court in nearly a century. Her successor, a religious zealot straight out of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” erases Justice Ginsburg’s achievements on women’s rights.
The timing of your release can determine your place in the history books.
This is something Joe Biden should keep in mind as he is on the crest of success. Those around him, angered by stories about worries about his age and unpopularity, will say this winning streak gives Biden the impetus to run again.
The opposite is true. That should give him the confidence to leave, sure he’s made his mark.
With the help of Chuck and Nancy, President Biden has had a cascade of legislative accomplishments on tech manufacturing, guns, infrastructure — and hopefully soon, climate and prescription drugs — that validate his promises when he showed up. These are real achievements that Democrats have sought for decades, and they will affect generations to come. From the Blue Room balcony on Monday, he touted the drone killing of the evil Ayman al-Zawahri, al-Qaeda’s supreme leader, who helped plan the 9/11 massacres. On Friday, he returned to brag about a surprising number of jobs.
Defying all expectations, the president changed the narrative. Before, the riff was that he was too old and dependent on his cross-party connections in the Senate. Now old school is cool. The Airmen’s old man has shown he can get things done, often with bipartisan support.
But now is the time for Biden to decide if all of this is fuel for a re-election campaign, when he turns 81 (82 on inauguration day), or a legacy to fall back on.
He could leave in style, knowing that he has delivered on his promises of progress and restored decency to the White House. He served as a balm to the pompous Donald Trump. Over the next two years, he might get more of what he wants and then step down. It would be self-effacing and patriotic, a stark contrast to the self-centered and treacherous Trump.
He offered himself as an escape from Trump and Trumpism, a way to help us find our bearings after the brutal and mind-blowing rule of a crook. Then he and his team got carried away and started unrealistically portraying him as FDR with a grand vision to remake the social contract. Biden’s mission was not to be a visionary but to be a healing force for a country that desperately needed healing and a bridge to the next generation. So it’s a logical term, and that keeps it true to its lofty point: what does the country really need?
The country really needs to dodge a Trump comeback or the rise of the obnoxious Ron DeSantis. There is a growing sense within the Democratic Party and in America that this will require new blood. If the president clarified his plans now, it would give Democrats a chance to sort out their field and allow time for an inspiring new candidate to emerge.
Usually being a lame duck weakens you. But in Biden’s case, it could strengthen him. We live in a Washington where people too often place power on principle. So many Republicans have behaved grotesquely in fear that Trump will turn against them. So leaving could elevate Biden, freeing him from typical re-election pressures, so he and his team could do what they thought was right rather than what was politically expedient.
It would also soften what will certainly be Republican attempts to impeach him if they regain the House and make him less of a target for their nasty attacks on his age and ability. The next two years could be hell, with Republicans tearing down Biden and refusing to do anything that could be seen as benefiting him.
Biden advisers believe that if you just ignore the age question, it will go away. But it’s already a hot topic in discussion groups and an undercurrent in Democratic circles, as lawmakers are pressed to answer whether or not they think Biden should run again. (Axios has started a running count.)
These are dangerous times — with inflation hurting us, weather killing us, the war in Ukraine creaking, tensions in China boiling, women’s rights at stake and Holocaust deniers at CPAC, where Viktor Orbán spits fascist bile at an extremely enthusiastic audience. It might be better to have a president freed from the usual political constraints.