Randi Kreiss

How old is too old for the Oval Office?

Posted

The weird thing is, everyone in the room is pretending that the top presidential candidates aren’t really old.

Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, the incumbent and the prospective candidate Michael Bloomberg are all over 70. They’re old, but apparently not old enough to know better. They all want to take on the mind-bending, exhausting, highest-stress job in the world, and they’re willing to run themselves into the ground for the opportunity.

To look a bit more closely, Elizabeth Warren, if elected, would be 71 at her inauguration; she’s oldish rather than old. Biden would be 78, Sanders, 79, and President Trump would begin a second term at age 74. Up until 2017, when Trump was inaugurated at age 70, Ronald Reagan held the honors for oldster in chief.

I speak with some authority. As a person of age (72 and counting), I know the territory. Many of us enjoy the advantages of having lived more than seven decades: wide experience, life lessons learned, and hopefully a certain acquired judgment and gravitas. However, there are pitfalls in this terrain. Memory starts to wobble, facility with words can diminish and stamina can fade. There’s no way around it: Few people are as sharp and quick, as physically and mentally resourceful, at 75 as they were at 45.

Looking just through the prism of age, I would make an exception for Warren, because those seven or eight years between her and the others could be significant. Notably, she has super-human energy, often posing for supporters’ selfies for three or four hours after her stump speeches.

I will also state the obvious: that any of the candidates would be a better choice than Donald Trump. In my mind, he has forfeited his right to serve through the succession of outrages, insults and schemes he has perpetrated. He has emerged as the impresario of a political circus that is threatening our democracy. His age is the least of his problems. His disqualifiers include lying (serially and continuously), incompetence, poor character, poor judgment, mean-spiritedness and significant executive dysfunction possibly related to age but maybe not.

Therefore, I want Democrats to get a good run for their money, and the age of some contenders is a real concern. Joe Biden is a great American and a world-class politician, but his age is showing. He is someone voters can love, but he may not be the best choice against Trump.

Like Joe, the candidates all do what they can to look younger and fitter. Lots of money has been spent on cosmetic surgery and hair dye and, I expect, stylists and consultants. When I saw Bloomberg move on stage last week, I thought suddenly that the field of old white dudes was discordant with our times and the needs of our time.

I must exempt Sanders from any discussion of hair dye or plastic surgery. With Bernie, you get what you see and you see what you get.  I can’t imagine that a stylist would intentionally create the wild-haired old man persona, but it works for millions of potential voters. He is a life force, leaping out of his hospital bed to resume “vigorous” campaigning after a real heart attack.

I still think he’s too old, although, of course, he or his hair stylist would be a better choice than Trump.

In general, the voting electorate is older, so people may be more tolerant of aging candidates, but Bill Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, suggests we boomers ask ourselves (and answer honestly), “If I were trying to do the job of a president, a very demanding job, would I be able to do it? Would I be able to keep it up day in, day out, for four years?” Jimmy Carter, 95, says he could not have done the job at age 80.

Why not opt for a candidate who is younger and more dynamic?

The job of president requires intellectual fortitude and equanimity and solid judgment and great reserves of energy. Trump possesses none of those job requirements. We need a candidate who can push him into retirement before he pushes us off the A-list of world democracies.

Copyright 2019 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at randik3@aol.com.