August 20, 2008

Age Should Not be an Issue in this Election

After the American Century

Most presidents upon election have been between the ages of 50 and 60, but some of the most effective assumed office before then. One lingering misconception from the primary elections is that Barack Obama might be a bit too young or inexperienced to be president. This image was fostered by Hillary Clinton, but in fact, her own husband, Bill Clinton, was younger than Obama when he was elected president. Born in 1946, Clinton was 46 in 1992. He had no Washington experience at all, and his only preparation was to serve as governor of one of the smaller southern states.

Theodore Roosevelt was only 43 when he became president in 1901, the same age as John F. Kennedy when he was elected in 1960. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was 50 when elected in 1932. In short, Obama is well within the range of normal presidential ages.

The Constitution is quite clear on this issue. It states no one is eligible to run for President until they have reached the age of 35. Life expectancy has increased since it was adopted, however, and candidates may be a little older as a result. But longer lifespans ought to have the effect of widening the field of possible candidates, not eliminating those who are in their 40s.

If there is no historical reason to think that Obama is too young, one might make a case for McCain as being too old, though I am loath to make it. Senator McCain, who will be 72 on August 29, gives every indication of being in full vigor. Ronald Reagan was elected in his 70th year, and remained in office until he was 78. If elected, however, McCain would begin to serve later in life than anyone before him. Given the strains of the modern presidency, which often turns into a 24-hour a day job, I personally would feel better in 2011 if the president were 50 rather than 75, but on the whole, this probably should not be an issue, anymore than Obama's supposed youth should be.