How Old Is “Too Old”?

This week former Vice President Joe Biden formally declared his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination.  He joins a very crowded field of politicians vying for the chance to square off against President Donald Trump in 2020.

bernie-and-joe-like-donald-trumpJoe Biden is 76 years old.  He was born on November 20, 1942; if he were to be elected, he would be 77 on Election Day, and 78 when he takes office.  Bernie Sanders, who is another candidate for the Democratic nomination, is 77 years old and, being born on September 8, 1941, would be 79 on Election Day in 2020.  If either of those candidates won, they would easily set a new record for the oldest person to be newly elected to the presidency — a record now held by the current occupant of the White House, who was a mere 70 when he was inaugurated.  (The oldest President to be elected, period, was Ronald Reagan, who was 73 when he won reelection in a landslide in 1984 — a record that would be obliterated if the 2020 race turned out to be either Trump-Biden or Trump-Sanders.)

There have been some old Presidents in American history — some good, some not so much — and clearly people’s perceptions of what it means to be old in our current day are changing.  As average life spans increase and medical care, diet, fitness, and general attention to health improve, some people argue that aging is really all about a state of mind, and “60 is the new 40.”  And no doubt Biden and Sanders will produce medical reports that show that they are healthy, active, vibrant, and ready to handle the demands of an incredibly taxing job.

Still, Biden and Sanders are really pushing the presidential age envelope into uncharted territory.  How will people react when, as Election Day nears, they really ponder the prospect of an 80-year-old President?  No doubt people will be looking carefully at all three of the septuagenarians — Trump, Biden, and Sanders — for signs of age-related physical feebleness and mental slippage.  Age is something that can’t be hidden, and one serious memory glitch during a debate could be all she wrote for a candidacy.

I don’t think it is improperly ageist to wonder about how age affects fitness for the Oval Office.  In 2020, we may be answering the question:  “How old is too old?”

UJ At 60

Today is my brother Jim’s birthday.  He’s now 60.  60!  It’s hard to believe.

60 probably isn’t quite the milestone that it used to be.   Some people — mostly, people who are about 60 — say that 60 is the new 40.  In UJ’s case, that’s actually pretty accurate.  He’s always had that trim, youthful look that causes people to underestimate his true age, and his hair is still, for the most part, as black as it has always been.  He doesn’t seem to have the wrinkles or creases that are the old age giveaways, either.  Even though he’s my older brother, he looks younger than I do, and that’s been true for a while.

13325437_998034090251689_3557608014176405478_nEven if 60 is the new 40, though, 60 years is a long time.  UJ is part of my earliest memories.  We shared a bedroom in the first house I can remember living in.  We played together all the time, and when we moved from our modest home in Akron proper to the more wide-open suburbs of Bath, where we again shared a room, we were part of the same roving gang of boys that played football and built dams and forts and caught crayfish in the stream that ran through the woods near our house.  We went bowling and to Cleveland Indians Bat Day doubleheaders and on trips to Washington, D.C. and Ocean City, New Jersey and on Sunday drives to the Blue Hole in Castalia, Ohio with Grandma and Grandpa Neal.

We moved to Columbus, and finally we each got our own room.  Our paths began to veer away from each other in other ways, too.  We ran with different crowds in junior high and high school, and went to different colleges, but Jim came to some of our college parties and got to know Kish and my other college friends.  Our careers went in different directions, too, but the sense of connection is still there, and always will be.  When Kish and I moved back to Columbus, Jim and I decided to get season tickets to the Browns.  After Dad died Jim and I — well, mostly Jim — managed Mom’s finances.  Jim and Richard and Russell and I have taken trips together, to Hen Island and New Orleans and to amusement parks across the land, to get in a little Webner male bonding.

Even though we’ve spent countless hours together, I don’t remember ever getting into a fight with Jim, or even a significant argument.  We’ve disagreed about things from time to time, but he’s always been a good brother.

Now Jim is retired, and he hangs out at the pool at his condo with his friends like those in the picture above.  He likes to plays the slots at the Hollywood Casino from time to time, and enjoys an occasional drink made with Captain Morgan spiced rum, and there’s usually a toothpick in his mouth.  He seems to like his life, and I’m happy for him.  It’s just hard for me to believe that he’s 60.

Happy birthday, Jim!