ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

American Opinion: Editorial: How old is ‘old,’ and when is a president ‘too old’?

From the editorial: We believe Americans should take Murthy’s word for it: No age is automatically too old to serve. Still, voters must consider a candidate’s capabilities ...

President Joe Biden arrives Oct. 7, 2021, at O'Hare International Airport aboard Air Force One for a visit to Elk Grove Village.
President Joe Biden arrives Oct. 7, 2021, at O'Hare International Airport aboard Air Force One for a visit to Elk Grove Village.
(Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/TNS)
We are part of The Trust Project.

President Joe Biden turned 80 on Nov. 20, and so far, he has given every indication he plans to run for reelection in 2024. If he were to win, his second term would conclude not long after his 86th birthday.

Too old?

American Opinion
American Opinion
Tribune graphic / Forum News Service
More American Opinion:
The Justice Department should ask Cannon to recuse herself, and if she refuses, it should appeal for reassignment of the case.
From the editorial: The right to marry whom you love should not be subject to the whims of an out-of-step conservative court or be left to a patchwork of state regulations. Congress must make the Respect for Marriage Act the law of the land.
From American Opinion editorial: Enter the Anti-Robocall Litigation Task Force, a nationwide effort that’s being made to investigate and take legal action against companies who bring foreign robocalls into the United States. The coalition includes attorneys general from all 50 states.
From the American Opinioin editorial: Late in 2021, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland formally created a process to replace derogatory names of geographic features across the nation. She declared the word “squaw” to be derogatory and ordered a federal panel — called the Board on Geographic Names — to move forward with procedures to remove that word from federal usage.

One of Biden’s would-be opponents has previously said he thinks not. Former President Donald Trump, 76, who has announced he will run again, once declared, “I would never say anyone is too old,” adding at the time that Biden and other rival candidates were making him “look very young.”

America is being led by a president well into what most people would describe as old age. But as Trump pointed out, there’s old and then there’s “old.”

Most people associate “old” with changes that go beyond a few gray hairs. As people grow old, inevitably, the heart works harder, the skin feels different, sight and hearing weaken and energy declines. Yet we all know people who seem to defy old age, working effectively and energetically well into their 80s.

ADVERTISEMENT

The Constitution requires presidents to be at least 35 years old, but it sets no upper limit, and clearly some octogenarians are more capable than others.

Without directly addressing Biden’s age, Vice Adm. Vivek Murthy, America’s surgeon general, acknowledged as much to the Tribune Editorial Board earlier this month. “There is such a wide range between your actual age and how you perform and function and show up in the world,” Murthy observed.

“Thanks in part to advances in medicine and a greater understanding about how to stay healthy through a combination of nutrition, physical activity, medical interventions and sleep and focus on mental health,” Murthy said, “we’re learning how people can be functional and contribute to society and enjoy their lives at ages that 30 or 40 years ago people would not have thought possible.”

Research supports Murthy’s perspective. But try telling a youngster that 80 isn’t “old.” Much depends on who is making the assessment of what age is “old,” and the range can vary dramatically from person to person. In one 2021 study , researchers interviewing 300 adults at a Montreal hospital elicited answers ranging from 45 to 100.

The surgeon general recalled that as a young physician he got hooted down by his senior peers when he described a 48-year-old patient as “elderly.” Full membership in AARP is open to anyone 50 and older, though it accepts members below that age — and invitations to join the retiree group often arrive, to the shock of recipients, years ahead of the big 5-0.

A recent survey of 2,000 Americans pinpointed the age at which people consider themselves old at a surprisingly low 57. The World Health Organization states that in most of the developed world, old age is considered to begin at a still-surprisingly low 60. In the U.S., early retirees can begin collecting Social Security at 62, and Medicare typically kicks in at 65.

It should be noted that some predictable health risks correspond with age. At 65, for instance, the risks from COVID-19 become more pronounced, Murthy noted. Korean researchers who studied more than 64,000 emergency-room visits determined that older patients were more likely to be admitted for hospital stays, but the odds were considerably less for the “youngest-old,” aged 65 to 74, than for the “oldest-old” group of 85-plus.

Of course, the exceptions to those guidelines make life interesting. Consider “late bloomers,” who hit their stride in life at ages many would consider old. Colonel Sanders, of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame, opened his first franchise at 62; Nancy Pelosi became House speaker at 66, after raising five children; and American folk artist Grandma Moses started her painting career in her mid-70s.

ADVERTISEMENT

Republican President Ronald Reagan, 73 at the time, gave a famous answer to the “too-old” question at a 1984 debate against Democratic nominee Walter Mondale, who was 56. “I will not make age an issue of this campaign,” Reagan said. “I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” Even Mondale laughed.

Leading up to the midterm elections, most Democratic candidates carefully avoided stating that Biden is too old to run again, even if they were thinking it. Should the GOP nominate a much younger candidate than Trump, the contrast with Biden would be impossible to miss, and potentially put a greater focus on Biden’s running mate. For his part, the president has said he will discuss running for reelection with his family over the holidays and announce a decision early next year.

More Opinion:
From the commentary: Every day is a new embarrassment, not just for (George Santos) but for the Republicans in Congress.
From the commentary: It is time to recognize obesity in childhood and adolescence for the complex chronic disease that it is.
"Church worship now competes with everything from professional sports to kids activities to household chores. ... we can either have a frank conversation about what church can be, or we can continue to watch the pews empty in cherished houses of worship across the country."
From the editorial: The days of magnanimity and bipartisan compromise are over. Some people want war and seem determined to provoke it.
Editorial cartoonist Dave Granlund draws on the continuation of gun violence in America.
When Katie Pinke directed her daughter to a beef expert in preparation for her speech meet, it made her think about the need for trusted ag sources of information.
From the commentary: To be clear, their questions are mainly about determining the best way to deliver care to teens — not about the value of treatment itself.
From the commentary: Businesses are already struggling under the extraordinary cost of doing business in Minnesota.
From the editorial: First, public debt cannot safely be allowed to keep rising at the projected rate. Second, purporting to solve this problem by threatening to default on the country’s obligations is nuts.
Editorial cartoonist John Darkow draws on Joe Biden's continued classified documents discoveries.

We believe Americans should take Murthy’s word for it: No age is automatically too old to serve. Still, voters must consider a candidate’s capabilities, especially if there were to be a national emergency.

Reagan used humor to defuse the focus on his age, but questions about his mental capacity continued to dog him. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease five years after he left the presidency, though there’s no evidence that he had the debilitating illness while in office.

And let’s not forget that in the 1984 election, where Reagan’s age was very much an issue, he went on to beat that whippersnapper Mondale in a landslide.

This American Opinion editorial is the view of the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board. Send feedback to: opinion@wctrib.com.

©2022 Chicago Tribune. Visit chicagotribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

______________________________________________________

This story was written by one of our partner news agencies. Forum Communications Company uses content from agencies such as Reuters, Kaiser Health News, Tribune News Service and others to provide a wider range of news to our readers. Learn more about the news services FCC uses here.

What To Read Next
Why is it that women’s hygiene products are not offered for free in school bathrooms?
From the editorial: Although multiple New York GOP House members have urged Santos to resign, the party’s far-right House membership is pulling him into their fold. Should Americans be surprised?
From the editorial: The White House is refusing — as it should — to negotiate with this fiscal gun to its head. Negotiating with terrorists is never wise.
From the editorial: (This is another step away from true government transparency, similar to the Kandiyohi County Board's public notice decision in January to eliminate its public notice distribution to nearly 70% of the county's households. County board chair Roger Ibdieke says the county's public notices are available on its website. A Tribune reader commented on Wednesday, "My understanding is that public notices are available on the kcmn.us website. However, I was unable to find them.")