Rejecting the Notion that a Presidential Candidate Can be “Too Old”

Recently, some of the younger candidates for President of the United States have argued that certain prominent presidential candidates, especially Joe Biden (who is 76) and Bernie Sanders (who is 77) should “pass the torch” to a new generation of leadership. Congressman Eric Swalwell (now a former candidate), former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, in particular, have made these sorts of arguments. Even CNN moderators at the recent presidential debate had questions directed at the older candidates which implied the “old is bad” thinking. Such arguments have received attention—so much so that the anti-ageism organization that I am a part of, the Gray Panthers, has gotten quoted by the media such as the Boston Globe and Daily Beast about the question of whether these candidates are “too old.”

The aforementioned candidates are wrong—there is no such thing as a candidate being “too old” for the presidency.

However, I’m going to go one step further, and also reject a number of common notions about presidential candidates and age that are ageist.

One such notion is that old candidates lack ideas. In 2016, Bernie Sanders, all by himself, rejected that notion. Some of the ideas embraced now by some on the left—Medicare for All, tuition-free public universities, and a $15 an hour minimum wage—became prominent at least in part because those were (and are) things that Sanders advocated for at times when even most Democrats suggested that these ideas were too radical. I should also note that Elizabeth Warren, who is also one of the oldest candidates in the race, has come out with many policy ideas as well. In contrast, the candidate often most criticized for a lack of policy ideas, Beto O’Rourke, is over 30 years younger than Sanders.

Some people also believe that old people lack the capacity (whether it be physical, mental, or otherwise) to serve as a president.Julian Castro’s “Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago?” line directed at Biden in a presidential debate seemed to go along with the idea that Biden is too old and senile to have the capacity for the presidency. I can refute the “old and senile” stereotype by pointing out that arguably two of the greatest world leaders of the second half of the twentieth century were leaders in their seventies and eighties. Nelson Mandela, who was instrumental in the healing of post-apartheid South Africa, was President of South Africa from the age of 75 until he was 80. Konrad Adenauer, who helped build West Germany from World War II ruins into an economic power, started as Chancellor of West Germany when he was 73…and he served until he was 87! These two individuals, as well as many others, demonstrate that a person’s capacity to serve a country effectively does not have to do with age.

Finally, there’s a belief among some that we need to move on from the old generation, and to a new generation of people.I am thoroughly understanding of where this argument comes from—it stems from the fact that we’ve had three presidents of approximately the same generation as Warren, Sanders, and Biden. Those three presidents include the scandal-marred Bill Clinton; George W. Bush, who led the country into two wars and the Great Recession; and Donald Trump, who is currently mired in an impeachment inquiry. That being said, just because previous presidents come from the same generation as some of the current candidates does not necessarily predict how those current candidates will do in the White House.

At the same time, I caution against the opposite notion, that age is an advantage. There is sometimes a stereotype that older candidates have wisdom that younger candidates inherently lack, or automatically have the experience that younger candidates lack just because of age. Ironically, Buttigieg, who I criticized earlier in the piece, is the prominent candidate who is most prone to falling victim to anti-younger-candidate ageism. These stereotypes should also be challenged and dismantled, as positive qualities such as wisdom and experience don’t have to do with age, but with a variety of factors that have nothing to do with age. However, negative age-related stereotypes about the older candidates in the presidential race seems particularly prominent right now, hence my focus on ageism against the older candidates.

Ultimately, the question should not be what age a candidate is, but whether a candidate is capable of making the United States, and the world as a whole, a place that is more fair and more just than it currently is. If the answer is yes, then seriously consider voting for that candidate. If not, then avoid voting for that candidate.

The Stigma of Looking Old

I used to be an advocate for people looking younger than they are. For that reason, I thought that products that took care of bald spots and gray hair were fantastic.

While readers (especially readers who personally know me) might chuckle at the image of a younger version of me seeing the virtues of products like Bosley and Just for Men, I think that this story is a microcosm of a form of injustice.

The injustice is that looking old is stigmatized.

Everything, from the fixation on products that make you look younger, to the compliments we give our friends and family members when they look younger than they are, has the stigma of looking old attached to it.

For example, many of us are fixated on anti-skin wrinkle products because those products make us look young. I know this because so many of the positive reviews on products such as Neutrogena’s Anti-Wrinkle Cream focus on how the product makes certain reviewers look younger. For that matter, even a couple of the negative reviews say that the product does not help the reviewers look younger. If we didn’t place so much value on looking young, and so much stigma on looking old, a product like Neutrogena’s Anti-Wrinkle Cream might not be so popular in the first place!

Another way we exalt youthful looks, and stigmatize elderly looks, is that many of us often compliment people who look younger than they say but seldom (Never?) give compliments when people look older than they say. When a 60-year-old looks like he or she is 50, some of us may say a compliment like: “You don’t look a day over 50!” But when a different 60-year-old looks like he or she is 80 or 90, we don’t say anything, or maybe even secretly think about how the person looks like a great grandma or great grandpa.

These examples demonstrate how many of us value youthful outside appearance, and look down upon looking old, whether we intend that or not. It is ageist of us to place so much value on looking young, and so little value on looking old, because we are judging people on the basis of the age they look.

I hope that this can change one day, and that we can all see the beauty of looking young, looking middle-aged, and looking old. There is value and beauty in all stages of life, and yes, that includes value and beauty in accumulating gray hairs and wrinkles. So the younger version of me was wrong—products which take care of bald spots and gray hair aren’t that fantastic, after all!

Author’s note: If you want to learn more about ageism, please refer to last week’s blog post.

What is Ageism?

Many of us are familiar with racism, sexism, homophobia, and ableism, to name a few. All of these forms of injustice exist, but there is yet another form of injustice which is within and around so many of us, yet is seldom talked about. This form of injustice is so seldom talked about that even I wasn’t aware of it until a couple of years ago.

The injustice is ageism.

Before making any posts on ageism, I want to establish what ageism is and give examples of this form of discrimination, in case any of my readers aren’t aware of or knowledgeable about it.

I define ageism as a form of discrimination where people are judged based on the age they are or the age they look.

This definition of ageism is more expansive than most definitions I see on the internet (including the definitions from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and the Oxford Dictionary), because many people define ageism as discrimination based on a person’s age. However, I’ve noticed how people who “look old” (even if their actual age isn’t that old) are discriminated against; as a result, I believe that age-based discrimination involves the age that people are and the age that people look.

Ageism can take on many forms, both blatant and subtle.

One example of blatant ageism was the forced retirement of a woman by the name of Maggie Kuhn from the Presbyterian Church in 1970. In Kuhn’s case, was required to retire after she turned 65. This is blatant ageism because she was judged on the sole basis of age. Namely, she (and anyone 65 and older) was judged to be less capable of doing her job than a younger person. Thankfully, she used her forced retirement as an opportunity to form an anti ageism organization: the Gray Panthers.

Ageism can take on many forms, ranging form comments about “entitled millennials” (a comment which make me cringe, not just because I’m a millennial but because it is a way of talking down younger people) to the societal stigma associated with looking old. In these cases, and many others, people are judged on the age they are and/or the age they look.

Hopefully, through the posts I make on ageism, I can help others confront both blatant and subtle ageism, and help us respect people in all stages of life.