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.

What Discussions on Joe Biden’s Unwanted Touching Need to Address

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of weeks, you would know that likely candidate for President of the United States Joe Biden has been accused of unwanted touching, and has since then made jokes about consent and touching. As a result of these accusations, there has been conversation, but most of those conversations have surrounded the former Vice President of the United States himself: about whether accusations against him are true, whether his jokes about touching were in poor taste, and about whether these things should disqualify him from being a serious candidate for President of the United States.

While these are all valid and important conversations to have, I think we would be doing an injustice to ourselves, and to American society as a whole, if we do not have conversations that go beyond the purview of Biden himself—conversations like these:

  1. We need to have a conversation about the warped power dynamics of someone touching from behind. Yes, unwanted touching of any sort is a problem, and there should be a discussion about unwanted touching as a whole. However, with unwanted touching from the back, the nature of it is such that the victim does not have the opportunity to say “no” because the victim did not see the person moving toward them. That warped power dynamic, which comes with the inability to say no with a touch from behind, needs to be addressed.
  2. We need to have a discussion about the fact that “jokes” involving inappropriate behavior, of any kind, are not funny. Stalking “jokes” are not funny (which I wrote a whole post about). Rape “jokes” are not funny. Unwanted touching “jokes” are not funny. “Jokes” related to any form of wrongdoing need to be addressed, because while Biden’s jokes were inappropriate, there are many places where I’ve heard jokes about inappropriate behavior, and unless we address that fact, we will just see such jokes get told over and over and over again.
  3. We need to continue discussing consent. For the umpteenth time, if there is no confident “yes,” then the answer is “no”! How many of these stories is it going to take before that fact dawns on people who are most likely to be tempted to act badly and commit an act of unwanted touching, sexual harassment, or sexual assault? 

I am sure there are many other things that can and even should be discussed, given the recent stories on the former vice president (and if that is the case, please let me know in the comments below). That being said, we must at least start by expanding the discussion beyond Biden himself. After all, Biden may only be around for a couple more decades on this earth (if that), but issues regarding touching from behind, jokes about inappropriate behaviors, and issues about consent may last much longer than Biden himself.