What's Tony Thinking

When Is It Time to Step Aside?


Two weeks ago I wrote a piece I titled “Biden’s Gamble.” I confessed my growing angst that what worked in 2020, and got Joe Biden elected, might not work in 2024. I raised the idea of a “national unity” ticket with someone sane who believes in the Constitution from each party.

Last week that piece appeared at the Seattle site, Post Alley. In response to my blog and to its appearance at Post Alley, some accused me of sowing division when a united front behind Joe Biden is essential. Others said the idea of a “national unity” ticket is a complete non-starter that would only bleed support from the Democratic ticket. Still others said this was all “too late.” The horses are out of the barn. Joe is running. Suck it up and get with the program. Someone in the Biden campaign referred to those raising such concerns as “bed-wetters.”

All that said, it’s not too late for Joe to gracefully step aside and open the field. Just because we’ve grown accustomed to campaigns that run two to three years doesn’t mean that it has to be that way. I suspect opening the field now would generate an interest and excitement that is so far lacking. And there’s no reason that a successor candidate can’t continue the best parts of Biden’s agenda. She or he should do so. Democrats don’t have to run against Biden. They do have to run against Trump and the spineless, and lawless, GOP. Just for the record, I think Trump is too old also, but he has so many other deficits that this one pales in comparison.

Meanwhile, a colleague at Post Alley, Eric Scigliano, has written a graceful and heart-felt open letter to Jill Biden, who is soon to visit Seattle. It is such a kind and lovely letter. I urge you to read it, and hope that Jill and Joe will as well.

One of Eric’s points is that, historically, a President’s second term is seldom anywhere near as productive as the first. Worse, second terms are often marked by miscues and endless controversy. It’s as if the air has gone out of the balloon. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush would be recent cases in point. A second Biden term might work out. But, I’d say, the possibilities for disarray, even disaster, are pretty high.

There’s a larger issue here. In a world where many are living longer, when is it time to step aside from leadership roles? We once had an arbitrary age of 65. But that doesn’t really work, given increased longevity. Nor is it legal.

When is it time to move over and give other and younger people a chance? Doing that, fostering a new generation and allowing for generational change, seem to me an important task and responsibility of aging.

Right now, we are seeing too many politicians hanging on when they need to move on.

It’s not just an individual problem when people hold on too long. It goes deeper. It betrays a lack of faith. Or a lack of faith in the future, of possibilities we cannot foresee, of people we do not yet know. And yet, as crazy as it sounds, it is so easy for those who have been good at what do to imagine that they are indispensable. People, whether sincere or not, will tell such a long-serving and beloved leader, “We can’t go on without you.” “You must stay.”

They are wrong. None of us are indispensable. Our “dispensability,” if you will, is built into God’s plan, a.k.a. mortality.

One of my favorite Biblical stories is about the prophet Elijah. After a great victory, Elijah suffers a crisis of confidence. He flees into the desert, taking refuge in a cave on Mt. Horeb (where, generations earlier, Moses had received the Ten Commandments). There God speaks to Elijah, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” What Elijah is doing is having his very own pity-party.

Elijah delivers a long self-justifying response to the Almighty’s question that combines grandiosity with self-pity in equal measure. He says, “I, alone, am left. I am the only faithful one still standing, and they are trying to take my life.” Not in so many words, God says, “Nonsense, get over yourself, Elijah.” God tells Elijah that there are many hundreds who keep the faith and that Elijah’s job now is to return and anoint a new generation of leaders. Elijah thought that it all depended on him. God said maybe he was taking himself a little too seriously (see I Kings 19 for the whole story).

All this to say that the drama playing out now with regard to the 2024 election, is also being played out in many, many other lives and settings where people are asking, or need to be asking, “Is it time for me to step aside from leadership. Is it time for me to relinquish power?”

I understand the need of those of us who are aging and enjoying a longer life-span to feel needed and to contribute. By all means. But one important way elders can contribute and signify their faith in others and in our common future is to step aside so that others can step up, and support them as they do so.


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