D.G. Martin: When to step down

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 9, 2024

By D.G. Martin

My father had been president of Davidson College for almost 10 years when at age 58 he learned that he was afflicted with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

He was popular with students, who often tossed frisbees with them as he walked across campus from his office to the president’s home. He was friendly, likable and beloved by staff and townspeople.

Davidson’s campus escaped most of the turmoil that disrupted some other campuses. My father hired Lefty Driesell and Homer Smith who brought successful football and basketball teams to the campus.

The college continued to gain recognition as a premier liberal arts college.

There were problems, of course, but most people at Davidson looked forward to his service continuing for many years. The college’s trustees respected and supported him.

Some few noticed his forgetfulness about minor matters and a waning of his enthusiasm for new projects and new thinking. But he was widely popular and most assumed that they would not need a new president anytime soon.

But my mother noticed and insisted that he seek medical attention. At first, my father’s confidence in his own strengths kept him from believing he was compromised. But the doctors recognized early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

My mother pushed him to bring his illness to the attention of the chair of the college trustees who quickly and sensitively worked out my father’s retirement. Without her recognition of the seriousness of my father’s illness and her acceptance of her and my father’s duty to the college, my father’s departure would have been a serious problem for Davidson.

Ultimately, my father understood, accepted the necessity of his withdrawal, and enjoyed his friendship with the new president, Sam Spencer.

What does my family’s and Davidson’s situation with my compromised father have to do with President Joe Biden?

Of course, they are different situations.

My father, with prodding from my mother, accepted the need to step aside.

The Bidens resist any talk of change, notwithstanding the president’s poor showing in the June 27 debate with Donald Trump.

The Economist, a respected British magazine, commented, “The mission for Joe Biden in the presidential debate held in Atlanta on June 27 was clear: to prove his critics wrong, by showing that he was mentally fit and thereby reverse the polling deficit that makes Donald Trump the favourite to win the American election in 2024.

“Unfortunately, his performance was an unmitigated disaster — perhaps the worst of any presidential candidate in modern history. The president, who is 81 (and would be 86 by the end of a second term in office), stammered indecipherably, struggled to complete his lines of attack and proved his doubters completely correct.

“Although Mr. Trump was in his typical form — meandering, mendacious, vindictive — he somehow appeared the more coherent and lucid of the pair. Mr. Biden’s decision to seek re-election rather than standing aside for a younger standard-bearer now looks like a reckless endangerment of the democracy he claims to want to protect.

“Merely quoting Mr. Biden’s rhetorical bumblings does not do them justice, but they do give a sense of the shambles.

“Consider one of his lines at the very start of the debate, the first indicator that the president was in poor form: ‘Making sure that we continue to strengthen our health-care system, making sure that we’re able to make every single, solitary person eligible for what I’ve been able to do with the…uh, COVID…excuse me, dealing with everyone we had to do with… look, if we finally beat Medicare…’

“The moderator interrupted before further damage could be done, one of several coups de grâce graciously administered.”

Like my father, Joe Biden has served well. He should be recognized and remembered for what he accomplished for our country. He can serve best now by stepping aside and helping find and elect someone who can win and serve as president beginning Jan. 20, 2025.

D.G. Martin, a retired lawyer, served as UNC-System’s vice president for public affairs and hosted PBS-NC’s North Carolina Bookwatch.