I watched the debate with friends, at their house. From the moment President Biden walked on stage, the mood in the room plummeted. We got more depressed as the 90 minutes ticked on. The only happy ones were their two dogs playing tug-of-war with their toys. Later, as I tried to distract myself at home by watching re-runs of Chicago PD, I thought suddenly of a quote from Shakespeare’s King Lear:  “The weight of this sad time we must obey. Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.”

We are living through sad, difficult times – an eroding planet, wars rumbling across the globe, anger pretty much everywhere that too often escalates to violence. We need a leader who can shoulder our sadness, put arms around our fears, encourage our strengths while acknowledging how helpless many of us feel. That isn’t a task for someone of advanced age who is showing the frailty that age often ushers in.  Time is the great leveler. It comes for all of us and we have a choice as to how we want to respond to it. 

There are countless articles and op-eds at the moment urging that Jill Biden, or the Democratic party, intervene and convince President Biden to withdraw from the presidential race. I have a bit of a different take, an image not of him stepping back but stepping forward in order to pass the torch to someone else who has the energy that’s needed for our times. It’s an image of him seizing control in a way that exudes humility and love of country. It’s an image of strength and leadership in these complicated and often depressing times. By relinquishing control, he would actually be in control.

 In 1796, George Washington stepped down from office at the close of his second term. At that time, he could possibly have remained in office for the rest of his life. There was nothing prohibiting that. As a result of his choice, the 22nd amendment was added to the Constitution limiting a president to two terms. He wrote a public letter (with rewrites by Alexander Hamilton) known as the Fairwell Address, which is read annually in the Senate on the occasion of Washington’s birthday. By resigning from office, Washington introduced the idea of a peaceful transfer of power, something that is in jeopardy at the moment. In the play Hamilton, the song One Last Time dramatizes Washington’s decision and Alexander Hamilton’s participation in that choice. It’s a piece of American history that we need to hang onto right now.

 Biden has an opportunity to teach us a wise lesson about choice, ageing and the grace of acceptance. If he owned the fact that the job of president in these troubled times is one best held by someone younger, someone with more vitality, more endurance, he would be imparting a life lesson to all of us. He would be showing us that sometimes the most courageous thing you can do is accept what you can no longer do. Accept that life leans into all of us and strength means acknowledging that truth. He would be telling us that he is thinking more about the country than about his own desires. He would be showing us what true leaders do by saying, ‘This job is one for a younger person with more vitality and stamina than I have. I choose to bow to the weight of time and step aside so that someone can step in who can better serve the country that I love.’

Every president thinks about his legacy. Joe Biden has an opportunity here to align himself with George Washington by doing a strong and courageous thing – handing the mantle to someone younger, someone who has more stamina, more longevity. He would then go down in history as a brave leader, which is, after all, how any leader wants to be remembered.


  1. Rainer Keil says:

    Dear Ms. Davis,
    Your statement is fully convincing and wonderful to read.
    Thank you

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