We wish Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) a full recovery from his heart attack last week. Remaining true to the relentless pursuit of his campaign themes, the 78-year-old tried to turn his sudden medical emergency into a plug for his Medicare-for-all policy.
More significantly, Sanders’ medical scare reminded us that this cycle’s race for the presidency is dominated by septuagenarians: In addition to Sanders, who is the oldest, former Vice President Joe Biden is 76, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is 70 and President Donald Trump is 73.
That makes this both the oldest presidential race ever and the youngest, as Mayor Pete Buttigieg, at 37, is just two years older than the youngest age permitted by the Constitution, and six years younger than John F. Kennedy was when he became the youngest person elected president. Yet the frontrunners in this race are the most senior citizens.
We are taught in Pirkei Avot, the book of rabbinic aphorisms, that upon reaching age 70 one achieves “the fullness of years.” Rather than being an age that suggests retirement, 70 is a marker of accomplishment and the achievement of wisdom — informed by surviving life’s joys and sorrows, and cultivated by a multitude of life’s experiences.
There must be something to that analysis, since the younger candidates seeking the presidential nomination are not getting the same attention and support as their elders. It is almost as if in today’s chaotic, confrontational version of political demolition derby, voters are gravitating toward the comfort of a more grandfatherly/grandmotherly leader, in contrast to what was once the youthful model of Kennedy, Clinton and Obama.
Then, of course, there is 95-year-old former President Jimmy Carter, who served his one White House term when he was in his 50s, and who has suggested that age limits be added to presidential term limits. We don’t see that idea getting much traction.
But we do wonder whether the bare-knuckled, gladiatorial tone of today’s political process is keeping younger candidates from joining the fray. Has the partisan noise, and the evisceration of the most outspoken women to join Congress this year, dissuaded others — particularly women and minorities — from running for public office? Are quality candidates shying away from the glaring exposure and the relentless attacks on those in public life?
We hope that those of all ages and backgrounds who have the skills, wisdom and ability to lead will choose to pursue public service and run for political office. And we hope that the American public will elect the most qualified person as president in 2020, irrespective of age. JN