Candidates are running for President. But in some cases, they are literally running for President. They’ll run up to the podium, or jog into a room filled with supporters.
Elizabeth Warren did it in mid-August in New Hampshire. “The implicit message of videos of Warren and others energized is that Biden (and Trump) are not,” John Buysse, a social media strategist for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, wrote on Twitter.
Age was a keystone issue of the 2016 race, but it’s largely been an unspoken flash point so far in the 2020 primary.
Joe Biden is 76, Bernie Sanders is 77, Elizabeth Warren is 70 and Donald Trump is 73. While some candidates have hit upwards with age-based attacks — Eric Swalwell did so in the first democratic debates, urging Biden to “pass the torch” — most have sat on the sidelines.
The media has it covered. The question of whether any of the four people most likely to be president in 2021 is too old has centred around Biden and his gaffes, something that the media fawns over. But whether Biden is actually too old, or if his gaffes — an impervious staple of his career for decades — just make him seem old is a valid question.
How old is too old to be the Commander in Chief?
A recent study conducted by the American Federation for Aging Research attempted to answer this question in one form: by gauging how likely a candidate is to die by Inauguration Day, 2025. The results? “[The candidates] have prospects for survival that extend well beyond the four-year term of the office. The bottom line is their chronological age does not matter at all,” the lead researcher, Dr. S. Jay Olshansky, told Politico. “There was nothing we could see that would lead us to believe that the age of an individual, in and of itself, should be a disqualifying factor to run for President.”
Sanders has a 76.8 percent chance of surviving a four-year term, the study found, based on statistics of individuals the same age and gender. Biden sits at 79.2 percent, Trump at 84.8 percent and Warren at 91.8 percent. The problem with these numbers, the study says, is that those running for president are well-educated and relatively rich, a demographic that generally lives longer. That means their odds of living through a four-year term are almost certainly higher in reality.
But to me, that means nothing.
Yes, part of the consideration is how long a candidate will live. But there is so much more to the consideration of age than just longevity. It’s also a conversation of mental state, energy level and physical presence.
To elect someone older than 75, in my mind, is irresponsible. It’s dangerous to place so much trust in someone that may not have the stamina to be the leader of the free world for at least 1,460 days.
Just in the last 12 years, the paradigm of age in politics has shifted dramatically. In 2008, the John McCain campaign considered making a one-term pledge — promising the American people to not run for a second term because he was 71 at the time. An election poll that year showed that one-third of Americans believed McCain’s age “could impede his ability to effectively govern the nation.” Bob Dole, in 1996, and Ronald Regan, in 1984, faced similar concerns. Both were 73 at the time.
It’s not like Democrats don’t have a choice. While the list of candidates is slowly shrinking — and will shrink further as debate requirements become more and more strict — there is a wide array of competent, qualified candidates of all ages. If Biden is too old, look no further than Beto O’Rourke or Amy Klobuchar — both moderate, “electable” (whatever that means), young and, in the case of Klobuchar, experienced. If Sanders is too old, just consider Warren or Julián Castro. There are like-minded, younger alternatives to the oldest in the Democratic primary.
This isn’t to say that all 78-year-olds are the same. I’m sure Sanders, who is well-educated and affluent, and an active campaigner for the past five years, is more fit and able than your average 78-year-old. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t 78, and that he should hold the highest office in the land.
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