Opinion: ‘Vindication has never been so unfulfilling’

U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minnesota) at a rally outside of the New Hampshire Statehouse last October. (Gaelen Morse/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minnesota) at a rally outside of the New Hampshire Statehouse last October. (Gaelen Morse/Getty Images/TNS)

As worried Democrats gathered this week on Capitol Hill to discuss the fallout from President Biden’s bad debate performance in Atlanta, one lawmaker was missing.

That Democrat was U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., who had already tried to raise red flags about Biden’s age, but was treated like the proverbial skunk at a picnic.

When reporters caught up with Phillips on the Capitol steps, he wasn’t gloating.

“Vindication has never been so unfulfilling,” the Minnesota Democrat said.

Phillips ran for the Democratic nomination — not to win, he said — but to try to spur a conversation about passing the torch to a new generation.

It was a difficult needle to thread. Biden is a popular figure, and critical talk about his age on the campaign trail seemed like a low blow.

“Men in their 80′s,” Phillips said in New Hampshire, “are not in a position to anticipate and prepare us for the future.”

Six months later, Phillips knew that few Democrats were listening.

“I’m deeply disappointed in a political system that has resulted in a dynamic that we now face,” Phillips said.

Joe Biden is 81. Donald Trump is 78. John Kennedy was only 43 when he was elected President.

The reluctance of Democrats to talk about Biden’s age is no surprise. Just last year, Senators said nothing about the obvious decline of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who faced questions before her death about her health and mental fitness.

Phillips violated the informal Congressional code of silence by publicly calling for Feinstein to resign, saying it was a ‘dereliction of duty’ for his colleagues to remain quiet.

But just like many of us who might skirt conversations about an aging relative, friend, or neighbor, politicians don’t usually make it their business to publicly call out someone over their health or age.

All of us have probably noticed that President Biden doesn’t move as fast as he used to — just compare last month’s debate with the video of him in the 2020 debates.

But should that automatically disqualify him from running again? That’s a trickier conversation.

Many Democrats are still haunted by the memory of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. After fighting off cancer once, some urged Ginsburg to step aside when Barack Obama was President.

But Ginsburg stayed on. Her health deteriorated, and she died at 87, just weeks before the 2020 election. That allowed Trump and Republicans to fill her seat, which could impact American politics for decades.

For now, President Biden isn’t going anywhere. Whether that’s the right choice for his party — and for himself — might not be clear until after November.

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and Congress from Washington, D.C. since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com