Opinion: Joe Biden has always put duty to country first. Will he do it again now?

President Joe Biden, speaks during a presidential debate hosted by CNN with Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump, Thursday, June 27, 2024, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
President Biden speaks during the presidential debate Thursday in Atlanta. (Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)

“I hope Joe Biden runs for president.” That was the headline of a column I wrote back in March of 2019. I believed then that “at a time when Trump continues to go lower and lower, Biden brings to the national stage the strength, decency and sense of duty that are sorely needed in our political discourse.”

Five years later, duty to country is required of Joe Biden once again.

This time, however, the act of duty that is needed is one of tremendous personal sacrifice — something the president is all too familiar with given the personal tragedies he has had to overcome over the years. It will require strength. It will require introspection. It will require him to do something that is against his nature. That act of duty and sacrifice is also one that embodies the very essence of our democratic process — to voluntarily relinquish power.

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No one can question Biden’s commitment to our country. He is a patriot, through and through. He has cemented his place in the history of our nation. He has conducted himself with honor and integrity and sincerity. Now he has the chance to finish his story with an act of selflessness and dignity.

Democrats often say November 2024 is the most important election of our lifetime. That a return to power by Donald Trump and his MAGA allies would spell doom for our country and put us on a path to authoritarianism and dictatorship. That the starting point for a Trump sequel is Jan. 6 and that the instruments of democracy would be forever altered.

If we accept that the stakes of this election are spectacularly high, it is essential that the Democratic Party put forward the absolute best, most competitive ticket possible. After watching Thursday night’s debate, it is abundantly clear that a Biden-led slate is not that.

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There are plenty of things about the debate to criticize: The format, CNN’s cowardly decision to withdraw from basic journalistic fact checking, and any and all conversations about golf. But none of that mitigates Biden’s uninspiring performance. And while it is a natural reflex for the Biden team to chalk it up as one bad night, the warning signs are as prevalent as ever that the 81-year-old president was just acting his age.

Now, let’s be clear, if the choice in November is ultimately between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, it is still not a difficult decision to vote for Biden. The issues matter more than the man. On democracy, a woman’s right to choose, economic equality, gun reform, climate change and more, it has to be Biden over Trump. But most issue-oriented voters already know this, and they are not the voters who will determine the outcome of this election.

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It’s the still undecided folks in a few swing states, who mostly reside to the right of the Democratic Party and the left of the Republican Party, who need to turn out and vote against Trump.

Voters who have never voted need to be presented with a reason to do so now. Republicans who have never voted for a Democrat need to have a reason to vote against their party’s pick. It is unlikely that Biden will be that reason.

I have a limitless amount of respect and admiration for the president. He reflects the character and leadership our country deserves. He has had one of the most consequential presidencies in American history. But he can’t defeat time.

I say this with all the respect in the world: Your country needs you, Joe Biden. Just not in the way you may want.

Kurt Bardella is a contributing writer to Opinion and a NewsNation contributor. @KurtBardella

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.