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How Old Should a U.S. President Be?

On Tuesday last week, Democratic presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders suffered chest pain at a campaign event and was taken to a hospital in Las Vegas.

At first doctors said the senator had a blockage in an artery but when he left the hospital on Friday, the campaign issued a statement saying Sanders had suffered a heart attack.

“'After two and a half days in the hospital, I feel great, and after taking a short time off, I look forward to getting back to work,' Sanders said in the statement quoted in Slate.

It was announced on Thursday that Senator Sanders will attend the 15 October Democratic debate in Ohio.

Bernie Sanders is 78 years old and until this past week, few journalists had dipped their pens into the quadrennial presidential age conversation. But his heart attack seems to have loosened reporters' reticence and there has been a sizable uptick in the number of opinions on the matter in the past few days.

After skimming through a number of them, it seemed to me to make better sense to have a bunch of old people like us at this blog discuss the presidential age issue. So here we are today.

This year, in addition to 78-year-old Sanders, there are 76-year-old Joe Biden, 70-year-old Elizabeth Warren not to mention 73-year-old Donald Trump running for the office of president.

Former President Jimmy Carter turned 95 last Tuesday. A couple of weeks earlier he told a crowd that he hopes there is an age limit on running for president:

“'If I were just 80 years old, if I was 15 years younger,' Mr. Carter said, 'I don’t believe I could undertake the duties that I experienced when I was president,' according to The New York Times.

“'One thing is you have to be very flexible with your mind,' he continued. 'You have to be able to go from one subject to another and concentrate on each one adequately and then put them all together in a comprehensive way.'”

It's hard to argue with a guy who's been there, done that so I won't try. Another age limit proponent, Andrew Ferguson, writing in The Atlantic back in June, had a different reason for wanting a younger president: “to break the gerontocracy” of the Democratic Party:

”There is a huge gap between where the energy and creativity of the party lie, with a group of dynamic activists and House members in their 30s and even their 20s (thank you, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez), and the ruling class of 70-somethings layered far above like a crumbling porte cochère...

“The trick for old folks is to adjust their search for purpose and meaning as they follow nature’s course and give way to their juniors.”

I'm ignoring that “crumbling porte chochere” crack along with the false assumptions about age stuffed into so short a quotation to offer the notion that some experience – as you might have noticed over the past two-and-a-half years – wouldn't hurt.

I think The Squad and some other young newcomers to Congress are terrific but I don't think one year is Congress is quite enough to tackle the biggest job.

Personally, I oppose a cutoff age for presidential candidates for the same reason I keep arguing against lumping all old people together. Come on now, you can sing it with me: People age at dramatically different rates.

Some 50- and 60-year-olds would be incapable of keeping up with the demands of the top job. Some 70-somethings and even 80-somethings can. But you don't need to hear that from me. Almost any geriatrician or gerontologist would agree:

”Gerontologists and other experts in aging say there is simply no way to definitively address the question of an upper age limit on the rigors of the presidency, reports The New York Times.

“'There’s no answer. It’s unknowable,' said Dr. Mark Lachs, co-chief of Geriatric and Palliative Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian. 'It’s true that rates of physical and cognitive impairment are age dependent but there’s all kind of variability.'”

And, hoping I'm not being too flip about it, what do you think vice presidents are for?

Ed Kilgore, writing in New York magazine last June came down on the side of no age limit:

”So from a historical perspective, Trump, Sanders, and Biden (and Elizabeth Warren...) aren’t too old at all as compared to the rest of the population. From a health point of view, it’s hard to say if they are riskier propositions than younger pols.

“There is the cautionary tale of Reagan, whom many observers thought was showing signs of serious cognitive impairment during his second term. On the other hand, another president who was clearly impaired, Woodrow Wilson, only 62 when he suffered a debilitating stroke...”

Now it's your turn, dear readers. Should there be an upper age limit for presidential candidates?



Comments

I am willing to let voters decide if a candidate is too old. However, I would like to see term limits for both Congress and the Supreme Court. They should be very long for the Court... perhaps 25 years (and I hope RBG hangs in for now) but life time tenure is too long. Ditto for congress persons who have been re-elected in "safe" districts for 30 or 40 years and are not as sharp as they once were.

I have the opinion that the Founding Fathers never envisioned "Congressman" as a career. More a civic duty to be carried out for a term or two and then return to real life. And, yes, they never considered that there would be Congresswomen.

To Trudy's point, no, the Founding Fathers did not envision congress as a lifetime career. But then, in those days, life as a congressman was quite a bit more challenging than it is now. They did not keep homes in DC but traveled great distances, by train, to do the work. Pay was drastically less than now. It was a civic duty. Apart from that, I struggle with the concept of an age limit. I have at times thought it would be wise. But if those who led the charge to unseat Nancy Pelosi had been successful, I cannot imagine what might have happened during this administration. Her lived experience and wisdom have been impressive and invaluable, IMHO. So I'm currently on the side of no age limit.


In "West Wing", Pres Bartlet wrote four words on paper to explain why he supported Hoynes as candidate for VP: "Because I might die". Yes, we need quality VPs, too.

There are age limits to critical positions other than the presidency: airline pilot, fire fighter, etc; although some of the age limits have been raised (or abolished in positions for which age has been judged a non-issue.) Thus, I'm not terribly upset by the idea of age limits for political positions including the presidency and supreme court justice. (Unlike the incredible RBG, Pres Reagan and Pres Trump made/have made good arguments for age limits.)

There might even be an argument for an age limit on laws and, indeed, on the Constitution! The founders of our country were not perfect and they probably did not foresee the extreme lengthening of life that we've experienced - with or without disabilities that accompany that length of life for so many people - let alone technological changes.

Our founding fathers set a minimum age of 35 to run for president. Back then 35 was considered well into middle age as life expectancy was not what it is today. By setting that age it's evident that the constructors of our constitution and our system of government knew that a certain amount of maturity was needed to carry out the job of the leader of our nation.
A quick look at the age when presidents were elected list, we find that most were in their 50's with only Eisenhower and Reagan being in their 60's. Trump, at 70, is the oldest person to be elected president. Do i think Bernie is too old to be the president we want? Yes. But I also think he's the president we need.

During the last presidential campaign, I watched as two candidates, older than me, ran campaigns that would have made me so tired. I kept saying, "how do they do it?" and my husband pointed out that they have staff. Staff can make a huge difference in the amount of work one can do, no matter the age.

I'm only 67 but I could not survive the campaigning Sanders, Biden, and Warren do. I couldn't have done it at age 60 even. Trump would accuse me of being low energy. So, if people can handle the campaigning they can probably handle the job.

I am 76 and have health problems. A friend in her mid 80's seems to keep up a good pace and has assumed the directorship of the library of which I was director in the 90's. I would not want her job now, and she is enjoying it. Granted she has a very supportive board and staff members of which have undertaken to do many of the tasks I did alone. Technology is now more supportive, too.

I think Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, even Joe Biden are not too old because they seem to be able to manage the rigors of campaigning and debating issues. At least for now. I think Donald Trump is exhibiting signs of mental deterioration which might be due to aging. His impulsiveness might merely be a personality trait. Hard to tell.

With the experience of having Reagan clearly losing his ability to remember and to make good decisions in his second term, we need to consider how to address mental capacity in that office. I have no good answer. We could propose a mental function test, but then what test and who evaluates.

We are left with the improbable and badly flawed system we currently have. With rampant propaganda and unlimited financial black money, we are clearly in danger of loss of our system.

>traveled great distances, by train, to do the work.

Nina... it was worse than that. The first passenger train in the USA started operation in about 1830. In the 1770's it was horseback, stage coach or walking. The roads between cities, if you can call them roads, were unmarked rutted tracks through the woods.

I agree that experience counts, but I'm tired of seeing rich old white men running this country (I'm a not so rich old white woman). Their attitudes and opinions are years out of date with many of them unable to understand the technology or keep up to date with the changes that technology creates as it becomes more and more part of life today.
o/

I've no idea what Bernie's overall health is. However, I do know someone, now in his late 60s, who is holding down and enjoying a demanding job yet had a heart attack aged 15, so I would not be overly phased by last week.

I'd go for the person who I believe offers the best hope for my country's future. I'm not American but to me, that looks like Bernie Sanders and in the UK, where I do vote that is Jeremy Corbyn. Both of whom embrace and encourage younger people and politicians and convince me they care about our planet.

I believe there's something in the adage "Where commitment goes, energy flows."

Here we go again . . . How old is too old?

Airline pilots, truck drivers, and from first-hand experience, even employees of private companies have written rules governing 'when you are too old'.

I worked for 25 years with a world-class corporation that created the rule book for marketing.

I sat in an HR meeting where 'too old' was openly discussed. Issues like: failing hearing, vision, fatigue, frequent medical issues, and tepid old ideas were discussed from a manual created by a well-respected New York consultant group. As a result, within a year 3,500 tenured and well-seasoned employees were laid off. Astonishing, shocking to those of us who remained - but not for long.

Court cases ensued . . . . and the courts decided essentially the corporation's position was correct!

Here I am 30 years later and feel as able-bodied as ever. That 'world-class' company has nearly vanished! A corporation that is now 'but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then we be heard no more'.

So, when does our candle burn out? Where does the flame go then? How old is too old?

It seems we generally agree that the effects of age are quite variable. It very much depends on the individual. The campaign itself is a pretty good indicator. If you can get through that in good shape, you can probably handle the presidency for four years. An age limit would be arbitrary at best, and grossly unfair to some. Perhaps at some age impose a thorough physical and mental health check?

A winning Presidential candidate must have commitment to his/her cause. Commitment requires physical energy. Energy is compromised by serious physical problems, and goals are dialed-back. Commitment is thus self-limiting for all but the most fortunate of us. I'd come down favoring no age limit.
Mental fitness, we are finding, is at least equal to physical fitness to properly perform the job. Could we pass a law requiring all declared candidates, within the ensuing 60 days, to take three separate gerontological exams: - - one each from a gerontologist of their choosing; another chosen by the 'opposing' political party; and a third exam from a gerontologist chosen jointly by the two prior gerontologists? The 'findings' of only the third professional would be sent to both houses of Congress, and be disseminated freely into all media. The comparatively small costs would be borne by the Federal Election Commission. This would go far to weed-out psychologically-unfit Presidents.

what I think about is how old will the person be by the end of their 2nd term? Sanders: 87; Biden 85; warren 79. From my own experience and from observing the old people around me, some of us over 75 and under 90 are still functioning pretty well and some of us, like me, got bad genes and bad luck and could never manage the rigors of the Presidency, mentally or physically. When you're in your early 70's all may still be well, but as the mid-70's come on, stuff starts to happen. One's health can go south rapidly, right Ronni? So, it's a crap game. It's such a rapidly changing world that keeping up with all the crises requires stamina, both physical and mental. It's a rare 70+ person who's still up to the challenge.

Let the voters decide. Horrible health problems can strike at any age, and if someone is up to the exhausting rigors of campaigning, they probably have enough energy for the job itself. If voters want to use age as a criterion, they will anyway, without a formal limit.

I just don't know. People do age at dramatically different rates. Speaking strictly for myself, however, I know that I would not be a good candidate for president as I approach 83 Y/O. (Actually, I wouldn't have wanted the job at 50!) I used to be a very high energy person who was able to routinely handle 60+ hour workweeks, maintain a household, care for pets, volunteer, etc. I had a very active life.

Now? Not so much. I've been retired for almost 5 years and very much doubt that I could still perform the nonprofit administrative job I held for many years. After age 80, like it or not, health issues (often including pain) are more likely to emerge, and they can affect functionality.

Campaigning is a good test of one's stamina, that's for sure. I'd be out of the running very soon since, besides being an introvert, I don't like to travel and need a decent night's sleep. A capable, younger vice-president would certainly be a good backup strategy for a 70+ presidential candidate, but I'm inclined to think that 80 is probably pushing the envelope--for most but perhaps not all.

The age of presidential candidates is fine at whatever age....BUT, voters should realize those 70+ need a vice presidential choice that can take the helm...and
may likely have to.

I don't want age limits - experience matters - and let the voters decide. But I do worry that, for the upcoming presidential election, a younger candidate would bring out more young voters, which would be good.

Probably an unpopular view here and I’m 72, but I think 70 should be the cutoff, knowing full well that a really good candidate could be made unavailable by this. If they were 70 and were president for 8 years, they would then be 78 and that’s at the very top limit for me.

As obnoxious as trump is, I have seen videos from years back when he could speak better, use more words and keep more focused. His age does show, along with decreasing mental function and decreasing loss of inhibitions that usually are checked around other people.

And I so agree with letting the younger generations have their time and I see this in the Democratic Party, but certainly not in the Republicans. They risk fading away due to attrition. Younger people aren't so prejudiced, judgemental and far right in their religion. And they care about climate change and having a more ethical society.

And a Vice President does the menial, less important stuff a president doesn’t normally do and is there in case........please not Pence!

Biden is slowly losing his marbles. Sanders still has his, and getting stents at his age is normal. If he is able to keep up the campaign pace prior to his heart attack, no problem. Warren seems to be all there physically and mentally. All should have a younger qualified running mate if nominated. If the press would report on the physical and mental shortcomings of all the candidates, we would all be better off, and age limits wouldn't be needed.

With that said, YANG2020!

I just turned 80 and am one of the fortunate ones who have aged with little change in their activities. I haven't had any operations nor do I take any medications of any kind. I'm not bragging...I'm just stating that although physically I can pretty much withstand the vigors of an active schedule (I also work part time and am on a bowling league), I feel at my age I am definitely not as sharp mentally as I was 10 years ago. Making decisions is much harder and recall is impossible on some days so I would feel much better with a younger candidate running for POTUS.

There is so much rambling and repetition coming from Trump which makes him seem like an old person most of the time. He doesn't seem to be up to date on technology and how it works. I agree with another poster that having a younger candidate would draw more of the younger generation. In my opinion, someone like Beto, Pete or even Tim Ryan would be better suited to attract the average voter....at least on the left.

I will of course get behind any candidate, young or old, chosen to run against Trump so may the best one win!

I’m in the camp that there be no formal age limit since we all age so differently. There will be a certain number of voters who will set their own age limit criteria. We would definitely need to give serious consideration to who becomes the V.P. nominee at any time, but certainly with an older Pres.

I’m opposed to mental tests including cognitive a requirement for candidates. Certainly I would expect Pres. and V.P. candidates to have undergone their own medical exams with their ethical physicians, or those who will care for them in the W.H. The issues this current Pres. presents have been obvious from the time he thrust himself into the campaign and have become increasingly so. Most voters — he didn’t win the popular vote, remember — were well aware he had serious problems and didn’t vote for him.

The individual candidates who can survive a campaign’s length and rigors would seem to demonstrate a potential for an ability to carry out the demands of their office if elected. On the other hand, maybe following the election maybe there could be an energy letdown and they’d run out of gas.

I do think a younger person recovering from a major medical issue like a heart attack might have a better future prognosis than a much older person which could be reason for giving second thought to a candidates selection.

This is such a difficult question and as an 81 year old - physically and mentally fit I am emotionally horrified at the idea of age limits - but I think we have to be realistic here - the demands physically, mentally and emotionally on POTUS must be overwhelming at times - I often think I could do a better job than most world leaders -but really! Perhaps Tim Ryan's suggestion of 3 separate specialists conducting physical/cognitive/emotional stability tests on all candidates would work - you notice I miss out the word "gerontologist" as that implies it would only apply to candidates of a certain age - but then should we also consider applying financial limits as well -and gender? the constraints could be endless -oh dear - as I said - a difficult question!

Hmmm.… as a Canadian... I thought the discussion might be about how Donald Trump is TOO YOUNG … clearly he hasn't matured enough!! Like some wines, he seems to be taking his time, in spite of having seen a lot of … oak...!!

Canada must dispatch Hazel McCallion on a rescue mission South as soon as possible!! America needs an elder Elder!!

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