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INTERESTING STUFF – 22 September 2018

The Age of Presidents and The Alex and Ronni Show

A couple of days ago, TGB reader Jean Gogolin asked me when I believe a person is too old to be president of the United States.

This year's midterm election is still weeks away but politicians are already been testing the waters for a presidential run in 2020. So I did a background check to see how old some of the possible contenders will be on inauguration day 2021. Here are a few of them in alphabetical order:

Joe Biden – 78
Cory Booker – 51
Kamala Harris – 57
Eric Holder – 70 (the day after the inauguration)
Bernie Sanders – 79
Donald Trump - 74
Elizabeth Warren – 72

For no good reason other than just because, during our Alex and Ronni Show recording on Wednesday this week, I put Jean's question to my former husband.

Here's the video we made; the presidential age question begins at about 11:30 minutes from the top. As you will see, we disagree.

I'm more articulate on paper than verbally and what I meant to make clear is that because humans age at remarkably different rates, I don't believe it's fair or possible to put an age limit on the presidency. Nor would I want to. There are people who might not be able to handle the job at 50; others would be fine at 80 and up.

An important question in placing an upper age limit on the presidency is when it would be imposed. If, arbitrarily, the limit were 65, would that mean a person could be elected at that age or would the candidate need to be 61 or 57 when elected to not pass the 65-year limit before the end of a four- or eight-year term?

At the other end of the age scale, the Constitution requires a president be at least 35 years of age. That seems to be a rational choice of the Founding Fathers to me. Although I might like to see a bit more seasoning that most of us have gained at that age, it is probably enough time for any serious person to be up for the job.

More to the point and after having somehow survived these past two years, it might be prudent for the country to consider a political science test to be sure a presidential candidate has a working knowledge of how government operates. Maybe a psychological test too. And is there such a thing as an ethics test?

Okay, I'm kidding in that last paragraph. But not by much.

What's your take on the presidential age question?


Presidents in their 40s: Polk, Pierce, Grant, Garfield, Cleveland, T. Roosevelt, Kennedy, Clinton, Obama.

Presidents 65 and over: Harrison (who only lived for a month), Buchanan, Reagan, Trump.

You be the judge.

I'm with Tom S. Two out of four known to be "beyond their best," and had questionable judgement and moral capabilities before becoming the head of this land.

Liberals/Democrats should post banners and signs saying "Hand back your Social Security checks!" and that might cause some voters to think about what they're doing.

The presidency of the United States of America is, if taken seriously, the hardest, most stressful, most onerous job that anyone can hold, anywhere in the world. It takes a tremendous visible toll even on younger presidents. The pressures always accelerate any physical or mental health problems that already exist.

It is outrageous that so many Americans imagine it's a job just anyone can do... that it's somehow undemocratic to expect their president to be anything more than an average Joe or Jane. Watching you choose a president is as terrifying to the rest of the world as watching children play with an unexploded land mine.

Now, could a highly exceptional older person leverage the wisdom already learned over the years to handle the stresses better than a younger person? Absolutely. It could happen... in theory. It isn't going to. With your selection process, the best you can hope for is someone who can learn on the job.

And it is a fact of life that new habits of thought do become more and more difficult to acquire as one ages.

Re: "Okay, I'm kidding in that last paragraph. But not by much."
I agree with you, Ronni, that an upper age limit depends on too many hard to define qualities. But, other qualifying tests such as health are a good idea. Yet, even then we risk having Trump's infamous shill, Dr. Oz, doing the testing when he can spare time from peddling a variety of questionable supplements on his TV show.

This is from a piece on NPR in January 2016.
"Trump Shares Medical Information And Affinity For Fast Food With 'Dr. Oz', who famously declared that Trump would be "the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency". I will add...even though he takes medication to grow hair, among others, doesn't exercise, etc etc. and is grossly overweight.

In April this year, again on Dr. Oz's show, Trump revealed "the brain pill that doubled his IQ". Oh my ! One can only guess at this point, he was starting with a 40 and is now, (stretching it and being generous) 80.

And yes, I have an 'attitude'. Old retired RNs come with one as part of the retirement package.

Thirty-five when the constitution was written was closer to the end of their life spans than thirty-five is today so they wanted 'seasoned' people running the country. I'm not in favor of having a cut off age because it takes a long time for people to accumulate the acknowledge and judgement it takes to be a good president. But if I was going to name an age, I'd probably not vote for anyone over 80.

Beto O'Rourke is 45.
Mike Bloomberg is 76.

That last paragraph is not far off the mark. Definitely a health test, a psychological evaluation, required release of all financial records, a thorough FBI background check, and some (preferably a lot of) relevant work history. I don't think an aribitrary age cut-off is necessary or wise if the candidate checks out in every other respect. And these checks should be done before a candidate gets on the general election ballot. And eliminate the electoral college. What happened in 2016 should never, ever happen again.

Age is definitely more than a number and I'm very reluctant to vote for anyone much over 65. Alas, looks like I'll have to. Big fan of Warren, and would vote for her enthusiastically. But I wish she were somewhat younger. I do think that the minimum age for the Presidency should be raised to 40. And with people living longer, I would probably support an upper limit as well. There will always be exceptions, but generally, no matter how much kale you eat and running you do, your body is in decline and your brain is part of your body. Our politicians should be mentoring the next generation, not trying to hold onto office until they're 125. I definitely would support a mandatory retirement age for elected officials. And term limits for justices of the Supreme Court. The country would be better served with more "churn" in the public sphere. Of course the real problem is voters who pay no attention to issues and records and simply vote in a familiar name.

Nelson Mandela was elected President of South Africa at the age of 74. He was universally acknowledged by South Africans and the rest of the world as the best President of this country ever. His term ended when he was 81. He was wise. He was also fit, having religiously exercised throughout his 27 years in jail, and healthy. He died at 95., having worked on the team of global former leaders as peacemakers for most of his "retirement" and dealt with an incredibly strenuous schedule.

The best President is the wisest one - there are plenty of advisors to provide information; the decision making must be done by someone wise, with perspective. How you test for that I don't know, but it's found more with age. Political systems don't choose for those qualities.

I think the age factor depends on the individual. I know I would not have had the energy to travel all over the world and immediately go to meetings where the future of the country was at stake; sometimes working 12 - 14 hours without sleep. But there are people like RBG who keep functioning at their best even into their nineties.

Remember, Ronald Reagan had the beginning of Alzheimer's while still in office and relied on Nancy to cue him on answers when being interviewed. This allowed the Rasputin, Dick Cheney, to literally run the presidency and look how well that turned out.

But George W. Bush was younger and not the brightest bulb in the chandelier with the similar result.

My point is that we can't generalize this any more than we can lump all old people into a stereotype.

So I think you and Alex are both half right. I think we need to be more demanding for an outside doctor and a psychiatrist to examine all candidates before they get on the ballot. Maybe a panel of doctors would be necessary. But we can no longer let an incompetent individual like -rump become the most important man in the world with all the power that goes with the office.

Maybe a lie detector test is all that would be required?

I agree with Susan on eliminating the electoral college.

I go further than Lucy: I believe that a lifetime appointment for any position is ludicrous! At the time it was determined that justices should serve for life, life was much nearer 35 than 90+. Federal judges and SCOTUS justices should have a term of something between 10 and 15 years (I like 12). That would assure that each would serve under more than one president, and it would allow for staggered appointments rather than having one president appoint a majority of them.

What really bugs me these days is that a minority of Americans is governing (or, in some cases, ruling) over the majority of Americans.

The minority have the power and money and know how to use religion to their advantage to gain further support.

As for age, first I’d want two tests. Knowledge of how our government operates and the basics of past world history. And two, some sort of psychological test to determine mental health. And it should be a panel. Of course, this will never happen.

Then age would not be the only factor. I agree with bumping it up to 40 and then the top should stop at 75/80. But I do think the best age is around 50 give or take.

Since I was the one who raised the question (thank you, Ronni), I'm fascinated by all these thoughtful responses. It seems some of us are relying on the "exception that proves the rule" reasoning in mentioning people such as Nelson Mandela and the inimitable RGB. But exceptions are just that.

As for me, I agree we need tests for candidates. Beyond that, I would put the upper age limit for the Presidency -- that is, the age when, if elected,.the candidate would have served two terms -- at 80.

That age limit would not have saved us from the loathsome current occupant of the White House, but the tests might have. Until there is some change, unfortunately, we can only hope the nation survives.

Sorry -- I meant to type RBG!!

Yes to term limits for Supreme Court justices and Federal Court judges. "Lifetime" appointments were for when men lived to be 45 if they were lucky. No women were ever contemplated.
Yes to psychological testing, lie detector, complete physical, IQ test.
Yes to abolishing electoral college.
Problem? All the politicians who are more interested in holding their jobs than doing what is best for the country, and Americans who basically don't give a rat's ass and don't even bother to vote. We get what we deserve.

Age limits, term limits, whatever, at this point I'm just sick of (most) old white men and the completely disproportionate power over the majority of Americans they wield. Pollution, income inequality, poverty, racial bias, prejudice, poor health care, all continue and thrive because of their actions and inactions. I am disgusted with my generation. Please, boomers. encourage young people to step up and run and vote for candidates that represent more than 25% of the population. I just saw Fahrenheit 11/9 so I admit to being more than a little outraged.

I don’t think having a psychological test is at all out of bounds. For the most part, I agree with Susan R.’s conditions, except that I would support upper age limits mostly because politicians seem to have absolutely no comprehension about the ravages of aging. Most of them, like Dianne Feinstein, think they can continue in office forever. Mandatory release of financial records is an absolute must and the outdated Electoral College has been bedeviling us long enough. It has to go!

For a long time I have thought that all of our political terms were out of whack. Near constant campaigning for reelection totally destroys the concept of actual performance while in office. If I ruled the nation, I would enact a single 7 year term for the Presidency. That’s all the actual work we typically get from a President and at least we wouldn’t have to put up with politicking. With a two year term to contend with, Representatives do virtually nothing except campaign for office. I see no reason why their terms can’t be closer to Senatorial terms. But they should have at least four years to prove themselves before asking to be reelected.

On the other hand, I am not so sanguine as are some about the ability of, say, millennials to carry on. It seems to me that many if not most millennials and gen x-ers are thoroughly puritanical.

I really don't care much about age -except that they be healthy and pick a decent VP in case they pass away or get medically unfit for office ;-).

I think we should change the requirements for president to say that to be eligible they have to have held some other elected position before they are eligible. And it has to be either a national position like congress or a least a governor.

The idea that just anybody can be seen as qualified for the most important position in the country, and perhaps the world, with no experience or without some sort of visible track record in an elected position and has been successfully vetted through a previous election process just seems ridiculous to me.

I have no way to judge except by myself. As I will be 78 in less than 2 months, I think some people at that age would be fine to tackle the presidency. However, stamina is in short supply for me - and I must assume for many people in my age bracket.

I also think that the age to run should be raised to 40. People under 40 have neither the history nor the experience necessary. I also believe that prior office should be a requisite!!

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