I was watching one of the cable “news” shouting channels one night. That was my first mistake. Their goal is raise the blood pressure of viewers, so they can sell more Lipitor.
One of the shouting heads was promoting an age limit for presidential candidates. We’re talking the upper end of the age spectrum.
Ever since George Washington took the oath of office in 1789, the minimum age for a president has been 35. That sounds young today, but back then, the average life expectancy was around 50. The Founding Fathers seemed to think that after two terms in the White House, a president would just go home and die.
These days, our life expectancy is 77.8, according to those who do the math. Of the two-dozen plus folks who have entered the 2020 race so far, only four are under 40. I’ve actually heard of one of them. On the other hand, at least five would be over 70 when they are sworn in, including President Donald Trump. He already holds the record for oldest person ever elected president, but four Democrats would top that if they are elected (including the two current front-runners, Joe Biden who would be 78 at his swearing-in, and Bernie Sanders who would be 79. Trump would be would be 74.)
So this cable news expert said to cap it at 75. Anyone older than that should be disqualified from tossing their fedora into the ring. I disagree.
Let’s review the past few elections. Critics of the winning candidates during the past half-century have picked them apart, but age has rarely been an issue. According to their opponents, we’ve elected a political has-been (Nixon), a peanut farmer (Carter) a B-movie star (Reagan), a wimp (Bush 41), a philandering small-state governor (Clinton), a spoiled rich kid (Bush 43), a community organizer (Obama), and a reality TV star (Trump).
When President Reagan was running for a second term, challenger Walter Mondale tried briefly to make age an issue, but Reagan delivered this debate knockout punch: "I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience."
Even now, some bring up Trump’s age, but like him or not, you cannot deny his energy. His diet may not be healthy, and his physique will never be mistaken for that of “The Rock,” but in 2016 he campaigned nonstop for days on end. It appears Biden and Sanders are able to do the same.
Certainly, there are risks. We’ve had presidents who were in the White House despite advancing age and serious illness. Poor William Henry Harrison was elected in 1840 at the age of 68. In today’s world, that translates to about 95. He caught a cold during his inaugural speech and died a month later.
In 1919, 62-year-old Woodrow Wilson suffered a massive stroke with eighteen months remaining in his second term. We now know his wife Edith took charge, as Wilson was bedridden and largely unresponsive. Reporters probably had no idea, and if they did, they agreed to keep it quiet so our enemies would not know. Imagine trying to get away with that today!
The same could be said for the unprecedented fourth term of Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1945, just a month after being sworn in, he died at 63. Radio was the dominant medium, so voters rarely saw him during the 1944 campaign. If they had, they would have seen a sick man who looked twenty years older.
There are no secrets today. If any of the leading candidates gets a paper cut, it will be “Breaking News!” within minutes.
I’m not a fan of judging people by their age. I’ve known kids who were mature enough to start driving when they were 13. I know others who shouldn’t be behind the wheel at 35. Yet long ago, someone decided that 16 was the perfect age. I’ve never been sure about that. The state of Alabama said I was qualified to ride a motorcycle at age 14. Today I still have the scars to prove that Alabama was wrong.
Remember the first time your doctor was younger than you? That was a little scary, but it worked out. I want my airplane pilot to be older, but not too old. The airlines do have age limits, and that was one of the arguments cited by the cable news shouter. Last time I checked though, Trump and his predecessors are never at the controls of Air Force One.
When it comes to age, one size doesn’t fit all. Leave those age limits alone. The best choice for the White House may be 40, 80, or somewhere in between. We can each be the judge of that.
David Carroll, a Chattanooga news anchor, is the author of “Volunteer Bama Dawg,” a collection of his best stories. You may contact him at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405 or firstname.lastname@example.org.