I took an informal poll the other day (OK, it was one of my sons) who opined that age 70 should be the cut off to run for president of the US.
The age issue is front and center in the upcoming race; both leading candidates (Biden, 80 and Trump, 76) are past that milestone. Neither concedes that age is a factor for them.
I watched the White House Correspondents Dinner this past weekend, and as usual, the jokes were sharp, funny, often painful jabs, but mostly truthful.
That’s why I watch – for the truthful part. Roy Wood Jr. was the headliner. He illustrated the pain and pathos of being in the business of truth-telling, i.e., Journalism. Simply stated, journalists have a duty to not just be present during their assignments; they must keep their eyes on the truth/facts of the matter, and then tell it.
Yes, there were awkward moments when individual foibles were called out (Don Lemon, who was not in the room, must have felt a sharp pain), and a wide range of news agencies were taken to task for some of their errors, and in one case, criminal activity (Fox). No one was left untouched in the annual dust-up which has been nicknamed the “Nerd Prom.”
According to a running joke told throughout the evening, “old” has become the new bad word when it was brought front and center into the evening’s litany of jokes.
Funny, but not so funny.
President Joe Biden turned the joke on himself and made it clear that no matter his age, he is better than any alternative (yet). It should have been a mike drop, but the evening continued with more references to the “old” question.
I pause here to reflect on the fact that the founding fathers only set a minimum age for US presidents, not a maximum.
Biden bears the distinction of being the oldest holding ofﬁce. But take one look at the demographics in Congress and he has many cohorts, and I would guess that many of them would balk at the notion that they are too old for their ofﬁces. There is little push to have them step aside (Sen. Dianne Feinstein being an exception).
In fact, some of the most effective and admired (by their party) include Mitch McConnel (81), Nancy Pelosi (82), James Clyburn (82), Steny Hoyer (83), Maxine Waters (83), Grace Napolitano (86), Bill Pascrell (86) and Chuck Grassley (89). These folk are the brain trust of the USA. Advanced age does not automatically indicate disability. John F. Kennedy was the youngest person elected as president (43) in 1960, and he was diagnosed with Addison’s disease in 1947/8, which was kept secret. Dwight Eisenhower, elected at age 56, had several illnesses; he suffered a heart attack/stroke in 1955 while in ofﬁce, and was reelected. Franklin D. Roosevelt had been diagnosed with polio since he was 39, yet he ran for ofﬁce in a wheelchair, and was reelected – twice!
Ronald Reagan, another two-term president, was 73 when he began his second term and, as we now know, was already operating with Alzheimer’s disease (another secretly held diagnosis).
Once, on the debate stage, he pushed aside concerns about his age with humor when he memorably quipped, “I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” The opponent was Walter Mondale, age 56.
Then we have Biden, who jogs in public, and wears dark aviators while answering to the name, Dark Brandon.
And that is what we need, more humor, since contrary to being a pejorative, being old is something that should be considered a privileged achievement.
On a personal note, hearing “your old a__ is so sharp,” or “so ﬁne,” and similar declarations, has a certain ring to it. I am past 70, not feeling “no way tired,” but then again, I only must run my simple life, not yours or the world’s greatest superpower (so far).
So, what is too old to be president? I do not know. What is too liberal or conservative? Too right or left of center? Too hawkish or paciﬁst? Too egalitarian or elitist, etc.? Those are the most important criteria by which I will be judging a presidential contender, not age.
In November 2024, we will have two choices, and they will probably both be “old.” I hear some Democrats say they will sit this one out, because they think Biden is too old.
No! It is critical that you do not sit this one out. There is too much at stake. Put aside any ideas about age, hold your nose, if that’ll help, but you must VOTE, Vote, vote.