Commentary

No Country for Old Candidates

By JIM CURLEY | Jan 08, 2020

One of my favorite trivia questions ever may be smashed to pieces next year. Let me set up the question. FDR served the longest term as U.S. president – from March 1933 to April 1945, more than 12 years. OK, how many people born during those 12 years were later elected president? The answer: a big, fat zero.

 

The turning point occurred in 1993, when George H.W. Bush, who served in World War II, was succeeded by Bill Clinton, who was born after World War II.

 

After Clinton, it has been Boomer after Boomer, including Donald Trump. Now at least three septuagenarians have the chance to erase perfectly good trivia. In early 2019, two elders, Biden and Sanders, entered the race as Democrats. Sanders was born three months before Pearl Harbor; Biden was born in 1942. More recently, Michael Bloomberg – who, like Biden, is 77 – has joined the crowd seeking the Democratic nomination. Also over 70 is Elizabeth Warren.

 

I hereby propose an age limit for becoming president. Going forward, the limit for entering the Oval Office shall be 70 or less on Inauguration Day. Further, nobody over 70 shall run for re-election.

 

Had those limits been in place since our nation’s founding, surprisingly few presidents would have lost terms in office. Two, in fact.

Ronald Reagan would have been barred for running for a second term. Let’s review his second four years. There was talk about the diminution of Reagan’s mental facilities. Also, Congress investigated his administration’s Iran Contra “arms for hostages” affair during his second term. Still, Reagan was popular through much of these eight years, the economy was strong, and his vice president, George H.W. Bush, succeeded him as president.

The other casualty of my proposed limits would have been Trump, who turned 70 about a half-year before his inauguration in 2017. He would be ineligible for a second term.

Of course, there already is an age limit to becoming president. It’s at the beginning of life. A citizen has to be at least 35 to become president. That makes sense. At 35, it’s likely young adults are well on the road to becoming seasoned human beings familiar with the trials and tribulations of life and adept at rolling with some of its “punches.”

The history of U.S. presidents indicates voters have built a little “wiggle room” that in practice has extended the minimum age. Nobody younger than 40 has ever been elected president. The youngest person to serve as president was Theodore Roosevelt, and he became our chief executive at 42 because his running mate, President William McKinley, was assassinated.

At the other end of life, though, it’s “anything goes.” The oldest-serving president was Reagan, who was 77 when he left office. If Trump were re-elected on 2020, he would be 78 when he left office. Both Biden and Bloomberg would be 81 and Sanders a year older than that when their first terms would end. And if any of these three were re-elected – we’re talking mid-80s. Oy vey!

Granted, there have been great breakthroughs in medicine. We’re learning a lot about DNA and other predictors of health. It may be true, as TV ads suggest, that the first person to reach 150 years old is alive today and that the first person to be cured of Alzheimer’s is walking our streets as we speak, but I don’t like the odds. To quote Ring Lardner, “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet.”

Let’s be realistic. We don’t have the cure for Alzheimer’s yet, not to mention cancers of all sizes and shapes. Plus, as we get older, the risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, dementia and a score of other afflictions increase.

Do we really want to roll the dice? Do we really want to choose among a quintet of candidates who have already reached the “three score and ten” mentioned in the Bible as the span of a human life? Candidates who are running for the most stressful job in the world?

If two septuagenarians face off for the presidency next year, I would advise that we study the vice presidential running mates very, very carefully.

Jim Curley lives in Ship Bottom.

 

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