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