Columnist Gene Lyons: The choice between two old white guys

Here’s my story: I’m a year younger than President Biden, two years and change older than Donald Trump. Healthwise, I’ve always been lucky. Having turned 80 in September, I’m still all systems go.

My most annoying physical impairment is called plantar fasciitis — in vernacular terms, a sore heel that comes and goes. There are basically two treatments: no more walking in Crocs and stretching. Given the rate at which my contemporaries are vanishing over the event horizon, it’s practically a blessing.

But I do keep forgetting the term “plantar fasciitis” and have to consult my wife or Google from time to time to recall it.

A couple of weeks ago, I drove the whole gang down to the dog park for their daily outing. It’s mandatory. They all four know exactly what time it is and when we’re supposed to go.

No dog park, no peace. The excitement grows as we get closer, ending in a crescendo of canine vocalization. The big dog, Aspen, allegedly a collie/Great Pyrenees mix that I’m beginning to think is more husky than collie, points his nose at the sky and howls like a wolf. The two basset hounds mimic him. Marley, the cowboy corgi and the brains of the operation, yaps maniacally.

Getting them safely through the gate without breaking your own leg can be a challenge.

So the reader will perhaps understand how I came to leave the key in the ignition and the motor running for the duration of our two-hour visit the other day. Given the rate of auto break-ins and pilferage, it’s a wonder the vehicle was still there — although it does have rather a pungent odor.

Even so, the blunder left me shaken. I felt like an idiot.

I also no longer drive on the freeway. I simply don’t see well enough to go 70 mph. I’ve lost confidence.

So no, somebody like me does not need to be president.

And neither, I’m afraid, does Joe Biden. Yes, he has aides to define plantar fasciitis as necessary, and he doesn’t do a lot of his own driving anymore. The contrived videos they show constantly on Fox News very much exaggerate his verbal and physical slips. Anybody can trip. Saying “Iraq” when you mean “Ukraine” is also understandable, so long as you correct yourself.

That said, although he appears to be in excellent health, the odds of Biden’s remaining hale and hearty for five more years are worsening by the day.

Nobody wants to see the 25th Amendment invoked — least of all, I should think, the president himself.

Then there’s Trump. Chances are, as former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a one-time U.S. attorney, tried to inform jeering Republican loyalists recently, the former president will be a convicted felon, and possibly an inmate in a federal penitentiary, by Election Day 2024.

But even if he escapes conviction, Trump’s own age-related infirmities have become ever more visible of late, to the point where even some Republicans have begun to notice. In speeches, he babbles, confusing names and places and stumbling over words on the teleprompter. During recent court testimony, Trump alibied that he’d been too busy managing foreign affairs crises to pay serious attention to a 2021 financial statement.

Nice try, but in 2021, of course, Trump was no longer president.

ABC News’ Jonathan Karl has pointed out that until quite recently, the former president had gotten a free ride, as our esteemed national media can only imagine one gaffe-prone politician at a time. The former president, he noted, “confuses basic facts, says some rather strange things, but there isn’t much attention paid.”

But leave it to that great humanitarian Gov. Ron DeSantis to step in. Professing to be sad to see the great man stumble, his campaign posted an online compilation of “fumbles, accidents and confused moments” by Trump so far this year. Taken together, it’s almost shocking even to a connoisseur of the former president’s manifest incompetence like myself.

It’s one thing, for example, for Trump to confuse the Catholic strongman of Hungary (Viktor Orban) with the Muslim dictator of Turkey (Recep Tayyip Erdogan). His subsequent remarks, moreover, made it clear that he has no idea where each country is located on a world map — claiming they both border upon Russia. Neither does.

Trump confused the Bush brothers, blaming Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for invading Iraq. Um, that would be former President George W. Bush.

He boasted of having defeated President Barack Obama in 2016 and claimed that only he could prevent World War II, which even most Trump supporters know ended in 1945, a year before he was born.

Trump gave an effusive greeting to GOP voters in Sioux Falls while actually speaking in Sioux City, Iowa. Understandable, perhaps.

But if Biden had done it?

No wonder, DeSantis says, Trump’s handlers won’t let him debate.

But then why would he?

Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at [email protected].