We’ve been told again and again that a week is an eternity in politics, and we still have 19 more to go before the first votes are cast in the 2020 presidential primary season. Sure, front-runners can stumble and expectations can be upended, but right now the odds are pretty good that whoever ends up taking the oath of office on Jan. 20, 2021, will be past the age of 70.
President Trump will turn 75 in 2021. And all three of Trump’s likeliest Democratic opponents are over 70: Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren became a septuagenarian this year; former Vice President Joe Biden is 76; and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders just turned 78.
This has been an occasion for some hand-wringing. The presidency is the world’s toughest job, we’ve been told, and should it be left to someone whose peers are populating retirement communities and meandering across the country in motor homes?
Well, why not?
First, the United States has more than once elected presidents who were considered “old” for the moment in which they were living. In 1952, Dwight Eisenhower was elected at age 62. At that juncture, American men had a life expectancy of about 65 years. Eisenhower ended up serving two terms. Heck, when George Washington became president in 1789, he was 57 years old. Back then, the male life expectancy was 38. In 1840, voters felt comfortable enough with 68-year-old William Henry Harrison to elevate him to the presidency. Of course, he died one month to the day after taking the oath, but still.
More to the point, people who have titles like “senator” and “former vice president” in front of their names are almost certainly healthier than the typical American because of the quality of health care they have received, the pensions they have enjoyed and the education they have attained, according to Dr. S. Jay Olshansky, a researcher with the American Federation for Aging Research.
Olshansky told Politico last month, “The bottom line is their chronological age does not matter at all” and that “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.”
It also should be noted that it’s not without precedent for someone who is past “three score years and 10,” as the Bible put it, to take a leadership role on the world stage. Nelson Mandela was 75 when he was elected president of South Africa; Konrad Adenauer became chancellor of West Germany when he was 73 and stepped down when he was 86; six years after being cast from office at the end of World War II, Winston Churchill became Britain’s prime minister again in 1951 at age 77; and Golda Meir became Israel’s prime minister on the cusp of her 71st birthday.
There will be plenty of reasons to accept or reject the candidates running in next year’s presidential election. Age shouldn’t be among them.