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Age and the U.S. Presidency

category_bug_politics.gif Surprisingly, enthusiasm among young voters for 76-year-old, Republican, presidential candidate, Ron Paul, is strong. In the New Hampshire primary on 3 January, 47 percent of the voters between the ages of 18 and 29 chose the Texas congressman.

Economist and blogger, Robert Reich, does not buy the Republican establishment's argument that Paul is popular with the young due to his economic positions:

”Baloney,” says Reich. “The young are flocking to Ron Paul because he wants to slice military spending, bring our troops home, stop government from spying on American citizens, and legalize pot...

“Paul is attractive to younger voters precisely because of positions he takes that are anathema to the vast majority of the Republican base, including almost all Tea Party Republicans.”

Whatever the reason, it has been rare in my lifetime that there is widespread youthful support for public officials in their eighth or ninth decade and if I ignore Paul's political positions, this is good to see.

Paul has little if any chance to gain the Republican nomination but for a blog that is all about what getting old is really like, his candidacy brings up an interesting question: is Ron Paul too old to be president? If elected, he would be 77 on inauguration day making him the oldest person ever to assume the nation's highest office.

Who better to ponder this question than us – people who are approaching Paul's age, are already as old as Paul and some who are older. But first.

Among Paul's rivals for the nomination, only Rick Santorum has raised the issue of age. Referring to foreign policy, Santorum said of Paul, "He's going to be 78 years old. How many 78-year-olds change their opinion?"

Santorum later fell back on what has become among Republicans the customary retraction following an embarrassing gaffe: it was a joke. But is it?

That almost always depends on who is saying it and under what circumstances. I was heartened by this comment in The New York Times from a young voter:

“'Does old make someone dumb?” asked Jeremy Spice, 23, of Fort Wayne, Ind. 'If people are looking at who could be president by their age, by their haircut, by their genuine smile, then they are looking for wrong reasons.'”

And it is a move in the right direction for elders that a “joke” about an elder opponent's age is considered politically incorrect enough to warrant a retraction.

Paul himself has countered the age question by issuing a challenge to his opponents:

“I’ve offered to ride a bicycle for 20 miles in Houston when the temperature is 100° and the humidity is 100% and I will go 20 miles with them and then we’ll decide who’s the youngest.”

None of the candidates has accepted yet. Back in November, Paul addressed the age question with a columnist for the Iowa newspaper, Daily Times Herald:

“Whatever happened to this notion that maybe with age you gain wisdom?” asked Paul. “That may still exist for all we know. And it’s my health that is important...”

Right on, Ron Paul. And no one should not be elected because his or her health might fail in the future. If we held to that proposition, we could not elect anyone of any age.

You probably know the many examples of elders as old and older than Paul who successfully held high public office:

Charles de Gaulle became president of France at age 79. Konrad Adenauer became chancellor of the German Republic until age 73 and remained in office until he was 87. Nelson Mandela was president of South Africa from age 76 to just a month or two shy of 81. And, of course, Michelangelo famously began work at St. Peter's Basilica at age 71.

Certainly, we cannot omit from this litany Ronald Reagan's famous retort about his age during a debate with Walter Mondale in 1984 when Reagan was 72:

As I like to remind readers from time to time, no person's mental and physical capacities can be predicted on years alone. We age at dramatically different rates depending on genes, health and plain dumb luck. Some at 50 are impaired; others at 80 and 90, too, remain capable.

Nevertheless, I wonder about most of us after about age 65 or 70. I knew long before I retired that my brain slows down enough by mid-afternoon that I never make important decision after 2PM or 3PM. That is more true today.

For the past several days, I have been installing many bookshelves (with more to arrive) and after assembling them, sorting books, humping boxes from the guest room to the new shelves, climbing a step stool to reach the top shelves many times – and I.am.tired.

Much more tired than when I packed those 35-odd boxes of books nearly two years ago and more tired still than when I last unpacked them in my previous home in 2006.

I know from experience now that after three days of this kind of work while keeping up the blog and other normal chores and errands, I won't be back to full energy and stamina for another day or two. It is morning now and I feel confident of my mental capacity; that will not be so later today.

So I am conflicted on this question of age and the presidency. I want my president to be as quick and sharp as necessary whenever necessary. Even though Mr. Paul is healthy and physically active, I wonder if his mind gets as tired as regularly as mine. Because national and international emergencies and even crucial day-to-day events don't happen on a schedule.

Overall, I want to believe that Ron Paul or any candidate his age is as capable as anyone else. But I know me. And I know other people near my age. And I know that sometimes we are just not up to it today. A president doesn't have that choice.

Here is a simple, little, grossly unscientific poll for us. You might want to give us all some explanation for your vote in the comments below.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ellen Younkins: Some Music


I wouldn't vote for me. I might need to take a nap just before the red phone rang.

I voted "No," Paul is not too old to be President. Being a racist, anti-Semitic homophobe with a lot of really crazy ideas among the handful of sensible ones may disqualify him for that high office, but his age certainly doesn't.

No, he's not too old for it but I'd want him to have a real good choice for veep if I was to vote for someone that age ;) And have them be the type of person to recognize health issues that might make him/her less able to govern effectively and be willing to resign if required by them. I think of Reagan and his Alzheimer's coming on and nobody willing to deal with that fact. Severely debilitating illnesses though can hit at any age which means we should want them all to have that kind of insights into their own abilities. I would also take into account their own health history and family genetics for deciding if an individual was too old to run. I didn't think John McCain was too old but his cancer history made me feel he should have chosen a veep ready to step into the job which he did not do.

At age 60 I've realized I don't bounce back easily -- especially from illness. I recently had a stomach virus that was going around here, and it knocked me for a loop. Where most in their 30s/40s were up and fine after two days, it took me TWO WEEKS to get over it. An entire week I was in the bed, unable to eat and barely able to get liquids down. Ended up at urgent care, had to have I.V. with fluids for dehydration. NOT a pleasant experience!

As for Paul, I think he is too old for the presidency. I also thought Reagan was too old, and considering his Alzheimer's and issues related to that, I wouldn't want another president in his 70s. Just my two cents.

I voted "don't know" because I don't know.

I wonder if part of the issue with old leaders is whether they've kept going full tilt into their 70s or whether they've slowed down and adjusted at a different pace. I ask this because I have recently - just shy of 65 - taken on what is unequivocally a young person's job as field director of a statewide election campaign. This sort of thing is usually done by quite young persons because it demands long hours, intense awareness of a multitude of details, and a general willingness to slog through problems.

Though I have the right experience for this project, I had not done anything exactly like it in several years. I find I can get back into the gear, but getting up to speed was tough. After a couple of months, I now feel as if I'm hitting my stride, but the start up was hard.

Old politicians may never have slowed down, in which case, I imagine their capacity is at good as it ever was -- in Mr. Paul's case, pretty darn low!

Ron may be a nice fellow, but's way too easy to believe he's not fit for the job of Prez, after listening to him speak and viewing his facial expressions. "If it walks like a duck..."

I voted that he is too old because I have 'been there - done that'. It doesn't get better and in four years Ron Paul, at the age of 80, would not have the stamina to be on top of his game 24 hours a day (as any president must be). A crisis can come at one in the morning and an elder would have trouble making critical decisions at that hour, no matter how good his health might be.

Much as we hate to admit it our brains work slower as we age and are not as quick to remember recent events, people, conversations, etc. And the routine is physically difficult - just look at pictures of past Presidents on Inauguration Day and then again on their last day in office - whether four or eight years later.

I believe a lot of decisions a president makes are greatly influenced by the people with whom he surrounds himself. Of course the vice president that he picks is critically important.
I would be interested to know who closely supports and finances Ron Paul's campaign. I can't believe the youth that seem to support him can possibly provide what he is spending.
Who will be there when he is too tired, too ill, or becomes disabled?

An aside: Did anyone else watch the tribute to Betty White on her 90th birthday? I think she is like good wine, she gets better with age. Not sure that can be said about Ron Paul...

Ron Paul's age could be a factor but for the fact that as a physician he has probably taken better care of his body than Newt Gingrich apparently has or even Rick Santorum.

If there is longevity in his family history there is no reason to believe that he couldn't effectively serve 4 or 8 years as President though god-forbid that should occur with his attitude toward SS and Medicare

I voted that Ron Paul was not too old; however, after reading all the other comments, I'm having second thoughts. I think he might do fine during one term, barring any unforeseen incidents (which could apply to anyone) but beyond that, I am wary, due more to the stressful nature of the job than any impending issue for Dr.Paul.

On another note, if you have your books inventoried, I would be very interested in seeing what's in your collection.

I voted "don't know" but basically agree with Rain.

Don't know! Ron Paul's super-scary ideology aside, I wouldn't want to automatically disqualify him or anyone else solely on the basis of age. (Isn't "ageism" something all elders should be fighting?) On the other hand, several comments note that our mental functioning may not be as sharp as it once was, and we get tired more quickly. I think that may be open to question also, but there's no doubt that it may take us longer to process information and make decisions. Speaking for myself, I'm a high-energy person, but I probably wouldn't want the Red Phone on my nightstand.

Hats off to janinsanfran for taking on directing an election campaign at 65! She's right in saying that's usually a young person's game. I'm not sure I could handle the late nights and constant crises at 75.

I definitely think that the question "Is _______ too old to be _____" should not be assessed by the number age but by their health, abilities. If they are older, but still in great health and have great ability to lead and make decisions, then I think they should not be discriminated against based on number age alone. I think it should be a case by case situation.

Go talk to that angry retired guy in your neigborhood and ask yourself if you want someone like him running the country.
Not for me. It's not his age; it's his attitude.

Like you Ronni - I hated to vote yes - but had to - I'm considered extremely fit, vital, energetic yet from personal experience I just know that I frequently have to conserve my energy and sometimes it just doesn't work - I'm 73 - the thought of someone older dealing with world safety 24 hours a day is something I just don't want to think about - very few world leaders carry the load that a US President does - so - sad to say but perhaps there is a 'use by date' for some positions.

I am conflicted, too. But in the end I think that if the candidate best supported my issues and if he/she was in excellent health and if he/she was running with a vp candidate who wasn't some kind of idiot, I would vote for that candidate. At the same time, I hope it never comes to that.

And there you are, up and down ladders and schlepping boxes and I remember your post when you moved in and all that work was overwhelming and exhausting and you were bummed. Seriously bummed. And today you write about it in a matter of fact way. I go to school on "aging with grace" from here, Ronni.

As for Ron Paul, he's bright and energetic and old. Feisty and committed to his ideals, perhaps we'd all be better off if the President took a 2 hour nap every afternoon. But, given that the world doesn't stop for siesta, let's hope the electorate wakes up and realizes that his ideas, while some might be attractive, are not really workable in the Oval Office. President Paul? I shiver and shake.

Based solely on his age I voted "no" he's not too old to be President.

Giving consideration to the stamina he has demonstrated in campaigning for the office (despite lacking further knowledge of his medical status) did influence my vote.

Comparing his status to my own, or others younger and older than him who I know, was not a factor I considered either. I wouldn't welcome taking on a full time job, much less that of President, but I'm me and he's him.

His ideological and political views were not factors in my choice either, but would certainly be in the unlikely event he was a nominee.

I wouldn't vote for him, or any candidate, based solely on one factor -- including age.

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