Too Old to Run?

Approximate Reading Time: 4 minutes

Am I the only one who thinks it’s crazy, solely on the basis of their ages, that Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders is viable as a candidate for president? It’s not a matter of ageism on my part. I’m 73, though I don’t “feel” it, as is statutorily required of me (that is, to say I don’t feel it). But I wouldn’t want myself to be nominated to any office, never mind CEO of the US, solely because I am too well aware that statistics are not on my side. And even less so on theirs. They’re older.

Then there’s the matter of how that job “ages” the job-holder. It’s been evident of every occupant of the office since it killed FDR, which is 74 years ago. Not that the effects, whatever they may be, are irreversible.

Jimmy Carter two days ago became the longest-lived former president. George HW Bush, who just died, was also in his 90s. No one asked either of these guys if they wouldn’t have wanted the job in their latter years—not to suggest they didn’t want a longer term in office than either of them got. Bush was 69 when he left office. Ten years younger than Biden would be if he ran and won, and assumed office in 2021. And Bernie is just a wee bit older than Joe, so he’d be closer to 80 standing on that platform in a chilly January inauguration. And Carter was 56 when he lost his bid for a second term.

It could be that Jimmy and Pappy were fortunate being spared the vagaries of the stresses of office in their declining years. There are those whose lives belie what I am implying, like, say, Rupert Murdoch and Warren Buffett (just to keep this argument ecumenical), but they aren’t having to deal with being President.

My sense of all this would be mitigated somewhat if we, like certain tribal peoples, were a society that did not just give lip service to venerating elders, but actually constituted a culture that included a system of governance whereby it was the elders who ran things.  And everyone accepted it. That’s what “culture” means in part.

Never mind a tribal council of sachems and elderly wise men and women, there won’t even be a minyan of ten “seniors” to hustle up for a cabinet session. Not that the current completely rational compensatory demand for greater diversity of electoral representation would stand for it, if there were.

No one running who was that old, and who was rational enough to expect to be elected, would choose a running mate anywhere close to 70. Donald Trump, who’s a year younger than me, chose a feckless non-entity (who mainly reinforced a perceptible bias of opinion of a plurality, at least, of likely voters), but still a guy who was not even quite 60 on election day in 2016.

In the case of either Biden or Sanders, significant weight would have to be given to strategies for running mate selection to respond to one facet of the selection question. What is the likely perception by a significant number of voters that they would be voting, as they rarely have had to in previous elections, for the inevitable occupant of the White House possibly well before the first term is up.

America is generally characterized as the land, if not of opportunity, then surely as the land of boundless optimism. Which is how we elected William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Warren G. Harding, and Franklin D. Roosevelt as president, and ended up with John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Calvin Coolidge, and Harry S. Truman, respectively – though not predictably in any case. The ages of the incumbents when they involuntarily left office were 68, 65, 57, and 53. As for why I speak of optimism, let me just say, Quayle, Cheney, and Pence; while saying nothing of the merits of the men who chose them as running mates who got into office, regardless.

Please note the argument is not to be wary in any case, and that we should merely be careful of what we wish for, because fortune acts with equal severity on young and old alike. The argument is about actuarial tables of mortality – the odds, if you like – and keeping an eye not so much on the age, but the substantive qualifications of the running mate.

This “actuarial” argument is co-extensive of any question of Trump’s fitness for office, and he will still be younger than either Sanders or Biden, and it cannot be ruled out that Trump will not be shy to suggest that unlike him, his opponent is “losing it” not least because of senility; in fact, the counterfactual quality of such an assertion – very much from the heart of the Trump school of rhetoric – almost guarantees that we would hear it. On the purer political grounds of who to run against Trump, the age factor must be considered. A younger candidate for the Democrats will not nullify the proven impact of his strategy of vulgar denunciation by ridicule and derision of any candidate daring to run against him.

Unclear what any analysis of Sanders’s or Biden’s appeal to young voters consists of, and whether it would persist through an actual candidacy. The spirit of the new younger, “millennial” Democratic caucus, and the gathering power of an argument for change, and not just change, but a re-direction for both parties suggests either of them may not sustain the political momentum needed to make it to the nomination. The Democrats are only that much more susceptible to criticism, because of the innately fractured nature of its factionalism, and so they are more visibly and obviously ripe for a contentious struggle for dominance of the party going into the 2020 election cycle. Young Republicans, or young conservatives, are a gathering force as well, and seem overdue to mount a powerful (and possibly eruptive) effort at revolution and revitalization after a corrosive four years of Trumpism.

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10 thoughts on “Too Old to Run?

  1. You are not alone. Bernie and Biden’s age do worry me. It is the number one factor that is keeping me from supporting them at this point. I will vote for them if they get the nomination, but am undecided for now who my pick is. If Bernie did get the nomination, picking someone younger and female like say Tammy Duckworth would help offset my concerns. Beto is young, but is really lacking as a candidate in my opinion

    • I’m sure at this point you know more about any specific candidate, like Tammy Duckworth (she’s the veteran with multiple amputations, if I remember correctly?), than I do. As I don’t vote in primaries, I find it doesn’t pay particularly to invest too much time before the actual nomination process begins in earnest closer to the conventions trying to find out much about them. When the field gets down to two, in earnest, I start to pay attention… And in the case of who might be a viable VP, especially in view of the need—more than ever—of a balanced ticket, especially if the candidate is older, for reasons stated and not to be belabored, I have been and remain skeptical of what almost any politician says on policy issues. As Steve said, the one issue in the next presidential contest is getting a candidate who can beat Trump to run. I despair of having any sense who might be sufficiently attractive to the American electorate to drive enough voters to the polls to vote and to get them to select the Democrat.

  2. A Freudian slip, clearly (Mother!)
    …Damn Dem….like Mongoose-dem….plural of damn Democrats….dum-da-dum-dum…

    • Now, see, I would have just blamed it on that Dem Apple auto-correct. Good for you. More forthcoming than Barr, more committed than Mueller, the most cautious white man in America. Politics? No thanks.

  3. Old white men may be over, but they still hold much of the power, so they won’t go gently into that good night…and Howard, re the Dam candidate, I’m also not defending the old guys as candidates – and to be clear, my ONLY criterion (yes, I’m a “1 issue voter”, just like the anti-abortion folks) is that I want to vote for any Democrat who will get elected…(I just hope Bernie doesn’t Bernie/Jill Stein/Nader the election to lose it for the Democrats like they did before).

    • Hey, unlike the oracle of West Newton, the Itzy of Birnbaum, I’m not at all sure of the status of old white men. And clearly, they are not going quietly…and this is where I say, uncharacteristically, LOL. I mourn every day my own cultural irrelevance. But that’s not what it’s about. I said already, I’m not ageist, and I’m not, certainly to the extent that I recognize mediocrity comes at all stages of development. That means, by my lights, it’s unfortunate that someone like Joe Biden has any political allure, or that Bernie Sanders is viewed as anything other than another pol… one with a significant career of the same kind of adroit abilities to thrive that any number of far more repugnant individuals (though purely in terms of policy) have evinced in pursuing their equally successful runs (McConnell and Graham spring immediately to mind). But I learned a long time ago to my assured mental well being that I am not representative of the mass electorate. At the same time I am aware that no one in the select demographic I somehow define ever swayed or tipped one election, I am also aware that inevitably I will be voting (the mere commitment to act is the first requirement of a true patriot) for some candidate I won’t spend too much time thinking about for fear of not keeping down my breakfast—I vote early—or feeling the pangs of malaise that signal depression.

      The anodyne for me is to do what I do here. To discuss as dispassionately as I can what I in fact feel quite strongly about, but am just as disquieted about as the next guy seeing his (or her) values abused—so except for principles I may articulate that I know in theory no one will dispute, insofar as lip service costs nothing, I keep my opinions to myself. Did you mean “Dam” or “Dem?” I can fix it (for the one other person who is even paying attention to this).

  4. Well, certainly there will be arguments of all kinds, and age will be one of them, and statistics are worth noting…but just to be a devil’s advocate here, the notion that the old, experienced, popular candidate would chart the course and the younger VP would end up guiding the ship there has already been voiced, and not as a “Plan B”, but as a potentially wise move. And of course, there is the indefatigable RBG, and those oldsters who still run marathons…I don’t know if either Biden or Bernie has that kind of abnormal energy, but it is possible…surely either of them could manage to spend more time and energy at actually governing than the present tweeting golfer…

    • Steve: I know it’s tempting to infer that I have taken a position of advocacy in this somehow. All I did, really, was ask a simple question, and not about the vagaries of the complex strategic political tangle the upcoming presidential election represents, but about my personal position on the matter., and specifically with regard to the potential candidacy of the supposed frontrunners: Biden and Sanders.

      I wish neither Biden nor Sanders ill wiill, and I hope each lasts into at least his 90s in good health and fully compos mentis.

      I also put only so much faith in statistics, which are friable, fungible, manipulable, and malleable… But there is no arguing mortality, and whatever the figures on longevity these days, and as I stated, they are closer to the end than those younger.

      One confronts the facts, about which, too often, absolutely nothing can be done, and then weighs the risks. And you might say that you are more optimistic than some readers might infer I am (bolstered by my seeming accidie on the subject of a mythic American trait).

      But this about neither of us, and it’s also not about some dearth of plausible strategies for the Democrats, faced with the challenge—not to be taken lightly—of denying the President a second term. If anything, there is a potential surfeit of them, and that there is no clear way to a campaign plan is evident enough in the roiled waters of the assembled camps of contending positions.

      It’s also not about the politics that are as unavoidable as the reality we wake up to. You’ll notice I didn’t say a word about the political status quo; no issues, no positions, no policies… These are all evident enough with a few hours immersion in news summaries and some adroit research on the internet. The great imponderable factor, of course, is that the electorate that will determine the outcome is as unfathomable as it has ever been—and that’s without commenting on the paradoxical behavior evident among certain segments of voters: borne of ineradicable malaise and discontent, decades in the making, and mainly legitimate for too many demographic divisions, whether considered (suspending all ties to reality) as somehow monolithic, or considered in terms of that new darling of theorists and pundits, intersectionally. Borne also of a wholly unpredictable ambivalence, which can swing voter action, sometimes on the fulcrum of a slice of time that is, at best, measured in hours.

      All of these add up to risk factors to be taken into account when placing one’s own bet on an outcome. And I suppose, unwillingly, this applies to politics as well.

      Your supposition, the “not Plan B” of a sane and rational strategy that tries to exploit the popularity of nominally left of center candidates like the elderly Joe Biden (though I have my doubts about his progressive bona fides, if any; he has a lot of baggage, and the stickers still affixed attest to some strange prior ports of call) or the even more elderly Sanders, who, if anything, is more susceptible to pre-emptive Trumpean positioning than his alter kacker rival. And in that exploitation combines it with the image of vigor and change represented by any one of a stable of much younger candidates. All of the latter are, of course, abetted in their quest for popularity merely by being juxtaposed with the old white men.

      And speaking of old white men, I haven’t even touched on one of those perpetual loci of volatility—most likely to explode, especially these days, when ignored; you simply cannot seek transport to a destination without being aware of the presence and location of the source of live power: a third rail, a high-tension line above, a still potent engine with a large reserve of fuel. I’m talking about old white women. We have at least two.

      But as I said, I am deliberately avoiding the inevitable discussions about the viability of all these alternatives, or all the possible permutations, though you seem to posit great faith in a very simple formulation.

      Good luck to you. I’m too tired to think about it. I’m going to take a nap now.

    • spoken like an oracle… you for old white women? young white women? what color? what gender? what age? what? Speak to me o great Sphinx!

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