I’m Too Old
By Patrick F. Cannon
I’m 84, and I think I’m too old to be president of the United States. And I think Joe Biden is too old to be president now, and certainly would be in 2024 if he decides to run again. Ditto Donald Trump, although age isn’t his only disqualification.
In 2028, when the next term ends, Biden would be 86, and Trump 81. And they’re not the only ones that have passed their sell-by date. Nancy Pelosi is 82, and Mitch McConnell – who may well be Senate majority leader come January of next year – has turned 80. The average age of senators is now the oldest ever. My congressman, the venerable Danny Davis, is 80 and running for re-election. Senator Dick Durbin is 77, and will be 83 when his current term ends in January 2027. By then, he will have been in Congress for 44 years.
How old were the greatest presidents when they were sworn in? George Washington was 57; Jefferson 58; Jackson 62; Lincoln 52; Teddy Roosevelt 43; FDR 51; and Eisenhower the oldest at 63. Some people would add Ronald Reagan to that list. He was 70 when he was first elected, and many argue that it might have been better had he not run for re-election.
It seems to me that as the average age of our politicians has gone up, their average intelligence has gone down. I can’t prove this, since their IQs – if they ever took such a test – haven’t been made public. It’s a wonder to me that some of them can even tie their shoelaces. We know Donald Trump’s ego is off the charts, but what of his intelligence? Wouldn’t you just love to see his SATs or his Wharton School transcripts? Did his family’s donations to the University of Pennsylvania insure his acceptance?
Of course, you don’t have to be a genius to be president. In his books on FDR, James MacGregor Burns argued that it wasn’t his intelligence but his temperament that made him a great president. And charisma, charm, a sense of humor (and good speech writers) took John F. Kennedy a long way.
But let’s get back to age. Take me for example. I watch Jeopardy most days. I will often know as many answers as the typical winner, but I would never win because I wouldn’t be able to come up with the answer as quickly as a younger contestant. There’s a good reason President Biden holds few news conferences – his staff realizes he can’t think quickly enough or avoid choosing the wrong words.
There was a time when I watched Sunday morning news programs like Meet the Press and Face the Nation. I don’t know if they kept records, but I would guess Biden was on more than any other politician. They could always count on him to have an opinion (right or wrong) and never be at a loss for words. If anything, they couldn’t shut him up. Now, his staff seems to be trying to, or hustling later to clarify his mistakes.
As I see it, the country has two related problems. Its politicians are getting older; and the best and brightest of our young people are avoiding politics like the plague. And who can blame them? Who would their heroes and role models be? Bernie Sanders and Mitch McConnell, whose combined ages are 160? (Not that I don’t have a sneaking admiration for Bernie, who at least has the courage of his wrong convictions.)
Please don’t misunderstand me. I think older people are fully capable of performing at a high level, but there is a difference between writing a book – social critic Jacques Barzun published a major work, From Dawn to Decadence, at 92 – and running the most complicated country in the world with all the pressures that entails. And it may be that someday an 80-year-old man or woman may appear who is able to effectively run the country, but I see no one like that today.
Copyright 2022, Patrick F. Cannon