For U.S. Presidents, age can be relative


By David Lindeman

Contributing columnist

I usually am a pretty optimistic kind of guy, but I have to admit I’m not looking forward to 2024.

The Middle East could blow up any second. The environment could blow up any second. I’m getting older and I could blow up at any second. That all sounds bad, but I just write those things down to the cost of doing business. As a friend of mine likes to say, “You pays your money and you takes your chances.”

No, I am thinking more along the lines of 2024 being a presidential election year. How did that happen? It seems like only yesterday that Joe Biden and Donald Trump were throwing insults at each other. What really has me worried is that it looks like we might have to live through the same two guys all over again.

This could have been avoided had Jimmy Madison and the other framers of the Constitution fixed it way back there in the beginning.

When the Constitution was written, the founding fathers were a little bit scarce of young, inexperienced politicians. They put in a rule that you had to be 35 years old to run for president.

I see what they were thinking. As far as I know, the youngest major party candidate to run for president was William Jennings Bryan. He was 36 when he ran for president in 1896. He liked the idea so much he ran again when he was 40 years old and again when he was 48. He lost three times before most candidates even run once.

The youngest president ever to take office was Theodore Roosevelt at the tender age of 42 after the death of William McKinley. John F. Kennedy was the youngest man elected president at age 43. Only seven others – Bill Clinton, US Grant, Barack Obama, Grover Cleveland, Franklin Pierce, James K. Polk and my favorite president, James Garfield – were younger than 50 when they took office. On the whole, they managed to not mess things up too much, except for maybe Grant and Pierce. Garfield might have been great, but someone went and shot him before he could really get started.

What Madison and his friends should have done was add an age limit to the job. You’re going to accuse me of age discrimination here but remember I’m getting old myself so I can pretty much say what I want. When the 2024 election rolls around, Biden will be almost 83 and Trump will be 78. I think Madison should have had some foresight and said that candidates can be no older than, say, 77 to run for president.

Yes, I know age can be a relative thing. I know people in their 80s who are sharper than people in their 50s. Most of these people are maybe working part-time, serving on charitable boards, doing good things – but not running a country of 335 million people that has nuclear warheads pointed at places all over the globe. That’s not even beginning to consider all kinds of other economic, social, military, diplomatic, political and personal problems. I mean, sometimes I struggle deciding what to have for lunch. What’s it like trying to keep track of the Hezbollahs, Hothis and Putins of the world, not to mention all the crazy people in this country, including the crazy people in your own political party?

I’m probably making too much of this age thing. Alexander the Great was 30 when he conquered the world. Good thing he didn’t have to wait until he was 35. Queen Elizabeth was great right up until she died at 96. She wasn’t exactly running things but at least they all still listened to her over there.

The ideal thing is that voters would be smart enough to recognize when it is time to put a politician out to pasture. The problem with that is that voters, being human, don’t always have such a great record of voting for the right person for the right reasons.

I’m not expecting any constitutional changes before November, so I guess I’ll have to resign myself to 11 months of circus performances, including court cases, impeachment hearings and old guys saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. I’m getting tired already – I’m getting older and I don’t have the same kind of energy I used to have.

Where’s James Garfield when you need him?

David Lindeman is a Troy resident and former editor at the Troy Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected].

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