The age issue

Is there such a thing as being too old to be president? In the fall of 1984, in his closing statement in the first presidential debate, then-President Ronald Reagan seemed to lose his way on a California highway. That’s right; he was talking on and on about this trip on a California highway, and it didn’t end anywhere, except with the red buzzer. And for the first time in what seemed to be a landslide waiting to happen, The Wall Street Journal whispered what everyone else was thinking: Is Reagan too old to be president?

The story lasted until the next debate, when Reagan diffused the issue with his characteristic humor, pledging that he was not going to make an issue of his “opponent’s youth or inexperience.”

I doubt today’s press corps would have been so forgiving.

Ronald Reagan was 73 years old, having been elected at age 69.

Bernie Sanders is 78.

Plenty of people have heart problems. Plenty of people live with stents. Stent procedures like Bernie has had are very common. They’re not fatal, not dangerous, and people work for many years. You’ll hear plenty of people from his campaign (and Joe Biden’s) say this is nothing to worry about. Even so …

Plenty of people live productive lives in their 70s and 80s and beyond.

What they don’t do is run for president of the United States at the age of 78.

God bless him. Sanders looks old and sounds old and needs the kind of heart procedures older people need because — God bless him — he is old.

Which is not — NOT — the reason he won’t be president.

Sanders was never going to be elected president.

He was never going to be the Democratic nominee.

Haw many socialist Jews with New York accents have been elected president? Nominated? Or (other than Sanders) elected to anything?

We are talking about presidential politics, friends. People vote in all the other states, too.

What Sanders’ latest health episodes may do is shorten the time between now and when Elizabeth Warren becomes the undisputed standard-bearer of the left wing of the Democratic Party.

And then — sorry, Bernie — it will get interesting. Biden needs a multicandidate race. He is nowhere near 50% and nowhere near getting there. Can Biden convince Sanders supporters to switch to him, not Warren? (No.) Will someone else emerge to challenge Warren if Biden fails too soon? (Always fun.) Or will the impeachment of the president lead to an actual fight on the Republican side and make it easier for a candidate many thought utterly improbable — Warren — to cruise to the Democratic nomination?

In the meantime, everyone is sending their wishes for a speedy recovery to Bernie, especially Joe Biden.


Susan Estrich is a nationally syndicated columnist.


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