UPDATE: Age is on the ballot like never before in the 2020 race
By Paul Brandus, MarketWatch
America could see its next president being the oldest ever -- or the youngest
I'm not sure if I want a president who looks like he still gets carded buying booze. But I don't think I want one who's nearly four-fifths of a century old, either.
Age is on the ballot in the 2020 race like never before. Barring an extraordinary development, Donald Trump--already the oldest person ever elected to a first term as president--will be the Republican candidate next year. That we know. But Democrats must choose among candidates ranging from Bernie Sanders--born three months before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941--to 37-year old Pete Buttigieg, born in 1982. In between this white-haired senior citizen and overachieving young whippersnapper are a dozen others; another senior citizen, Joe Biden (circa 1942) may soon join them.
Age is hardly the only thing to factor in when choosing a president, of course. Experience, character, temperament, moral authority, the ability to persuade, and administrative skills are among the many qualities that also count. So does something that is often harder to define: whether a candidate is the right person for the particular time in which we live, and whether he or she is best suited to take on the many difficult challenges we face at home and abroad. All of this is subject to debate, of course, and this is one reason why I think our longer campaigns are good: it gives us time to think about our choice.
Even so, how old is too old? And how young is too young?
Related: Would you vote for a senior citizen for president? (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/would-you-vote-for-a-senior-citizen-for-president-2019-03-07)
Given that the average life expectancy for a male in the United States is 76.1, it's only fair to ask whether Sanders and Biden are sharp enough, and energetic enough for the job. When Ronald Reagan was president, from age 69 to 77, there were concerns that he was slipping; he acknowledged five years after leaving the White House that he had Alzheimer's disease. There are also concerns (voiced mostly by Democrats) whether President Trump, who turns 73 in June, is mentally fit.
At the other end of the scale, there are certainly no questions about Buttigieg's razor sharp mind or his energy. But if elected, he would only be 39 the day before his swearing in, making him by far the youngest president in American history.
His resume includes Harvard and Oxford, where he was a Rhodes scholar. He was a also a naval intelligence officer, served in Afghanistan for seven months, and seems to have done a pretty good job as mayor of South Bend, Indiana for the last seven years. South Bend (population 100,000) isn't very big, but it still seems like an impressive record for someone so young.
Decide for yourself how this compares with our youngest presidents. The youngest POTUS ever was Theodore Roosevelt, who became president at age 42, when William McKinley was assassinated. TR had only been vice president for six months, but had previously been New York City police commissioner, New York governor, and assistant secretary of the Navy. Roosevelt also fought in the Spanish-American War, leading his Rough Riders up San Juan Hill in Cuba.
But the youngest President ever elected was 43-year old John F. Kennedy. By 1960, JFK, a World War II hero, had already been a congressman for six years and senator for eight. In electing Kennedy, Americans made a generational switch from the oldest president ever (at the time), 70-year old Dwight Eisenhower.
Related:Buttigieg compares Sanders supporters to Trump fans | Democrats plot next move in Trump tax-return fight (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/buttigieg-compares-sanders-supporters-to-trump-fans-democrats-plot-next-move-in-trump-tax-return-fight-2019-04-22)
But glittering resumes can be deceiving. One president who, like Buttigieg, spent his formative years in Indiana, failed at just about everything in life, and served just one rather undistinguished term in Congress. But that man was also charismatic, supremely intelligent, well read and, as it turned out in 1860, exactly the right man at the right time.
Abraham Lincoln would lead America through the worst chapter in its history--the Civil War.
I'm certainly not comparing Buttigieg to Lincoln, or anyone. My sense is that for all his accomplishments and promise, he's too young. But at 37, he'll have plenty of opportunities ahead. What's the rush?
But for Sanders and Biden, this is it. The challenge for them--and for Trump--is to explain to Americans why they have what it takes to lead America into the third decade of what has been a very troubling century. The 21st century has not been good to us: Wars, two crippling recessions, a devastating terror attack, surging debt and a gnawing sense that something is wrong and we have somehow lost our way. Young or old, man or woman, black, white or brown, whoever we choose must convince us that they know the way forward.
-Paul Brandus; 415-439-6400; AskNewswires@dowjones.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
April 22, 2019 15:39 ET (19:39 GMT)
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