Guy Farmer: How old is too old to be president?
Because I’m a card-carrying senior citizen, I think I’m qualified to write about elderly presidential candidates, and to ask an important question: How old is too old?
I came across that provocative question in a Los Angeles Times column as I was spending Thanksgiving with friends in Southern California. In an op-ed article, two professors from the University of New Mexico’s Memory and Aging Center, Gary Rosenberg and Kathleen Haaland, asked whether there should be an age limit for presidential candidates, given the fact that President Trump and the Democrat front-runners Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are all over 70.
Answering their own question, the professors wrote that “age, in and of itself, should not disqualify someone from seeking the presidency, but there needs to be some way to evaluate mental fitness.” I agree as I watch former Vice President Biden stumble and search for words on the campaign trail and contemplate the worrisome possibility that Sanders, an irascible 78-year-old politician who suffered a recent heart attack, could be our next president.
Rosenberg and Haaland noted that at the time of the next presidential inauguration in January 2021, our wildly erratic and unpredictable president will be 74 years old, and Biden, Sanders and Warren will be 78, 79 and 71, respectively. And a newly declared Democrat candidate, former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, is 77. By contrast, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is currently running in fourth place, will be 38 years old on Jan. 20, 2021. Think about it.
That doesn’t mean I’m endorsing Mayor Pete for the Democratic presidential nomination, only that I think age is a factor that needs to be considered as we choose our next president. We might also look at the ages of potential vice presidential candidates: Buttigieg; Cory Booker, 50; Kamala Harris, 55: Amy Klobuchar, 59, and Vice President Mike Pence, 60.
The Washington gerontocracy doesn’t stop at the White House. It continues in Congress, where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is 79 and her deputy, Steny Hoyer, a Washington swamp-dweller since 1981, is 80, not to mention venerable California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who is 86. No wonder younger politicians like Mayor Pete and New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 30, are calling for a new generation of leadership in our federal government. Me too, kids, but maybe not you.
Rosenberg and Haaland wrote that we’ve never had a president who assumed office after turning 70, not even Ronald Reagan. “Is that a problem? Maybe, or maybe not,” they continued. “People age very differently, so while one person may still be quite intellectually fit at 75 … another may show significant signs of age-related mental decline far earlier.” Which makes me return to good old Joe Biden, and his underwhelming performance on the campaign trail, where he’s currently on a “No Malarkey” tour in Iowa. Unfortunately, no one under age 50 knows what that means.
Frankly, I think Biden’s campaign rhetoric is mostly malarkey, defined as “meaningless talk” or “nonsense.” Biden, who has been in Washington since 1973, attaches himself firmly to former President Obama, who does his best to ignore his good buddy, Joe. Actually, Obama probably prefers one of the newer entrants in the presidential sweepstakes, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, 63, a fellow African-American moderate — relatively moderate compared to socialist Sanders and ultra-progressive Warren, that is.
I keep imploring my Democratic friends to nominate a candidate I can vote for, preferably one who isn’t pushing 80 — although there’s nothing wrong with being 80. Ahem.
Proud senior citizen Guy W. Farmer is the Appeal’s longtime political columnist.