I read an interesting opinion column this week in the USA Today penned by Bonnie Goldstein, a former U.S. Senate investigator, network TV producer and Washington, D.C. writer. The headline of the column was “I’m the same age as Elizabeth Warren. We 70-somethings have no business being president.”
Since the leading candidates of both parties right now are all older than 70, I thought that this would make a good non-partisan question for our poll. Donald Trump is 72. Joe Biden is 76. Bernie Sanders is 77.
Good old Ronald Reagan once blew up the age argument when he famously deflected a question about his age during his 1984 re-election campaign against 56-year-old Walter Mondale: “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” That was a great line! But that was then and this is now. Will the country think differently this time?
Goldstein, in her opinion column, talked about how she and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren will both turn 70 this year, making Warren the fourth septuagenarian officially in the race, joining Joe Biden (76), Bernie Sanders (77) and Donald Trump, who turns 73 on June 14.
“Personally, I am amazed to have chronologically made it this far” she opined. “Those candidates and I were all born during the 1940s, which means we went though the 1980s as young adults. That fact alone should disqualify all of us from running for president.”
Although I am was born in 1955, I related to her narrative and enjoyed her discussion of how different life was then versus now. “The ‘80s were exhilarating and then exhausting. As my crowd was coming of age and into positions of leadership, we had nearly limitless possibilities to define and achieve success. The war in Vietnam was over. We were allowed to take risks. We were unsupervised and unchecked, our privacy protected by analog obscurity. Boomers and our Warholian older brothers and sisters, were posing, positioning and philandering. We had loads of time to land on our feet and reinvent ourselves. Love was free. Cocaine was ubiquitous. Decadence had no consequences. We had only begun to hear about a blood disease that was affecting gay men.”
She did not apologize for her generation, just pointed out that it was formed in a much different world.
The country was in turmoil through the 1960s and then had to deal with the Nixon debacle. The Reagan years were culturally much calmer. Things were politically much more stable and economically opportune. For the ambitious and energetic, to quote Tom Petty, “The sky was the limit.”
Goldstein talked about how, while Bernie Sanders wrestled with money problems in the mid-1980s, Donald Trump was living a completely different life 300 miles to the south. He was a self-styled mogul and that enjoyed the advantage of inheriting about $4.5 million a year from his father’s clever generosity. This allowed Trump to go on a debt-fueled spending spree to build his own real estate and gambling empire in New York and Atlantic City.
The contrast between Trump and Sanders was very informative as to how their political viewpoints differ today. The same holds true, I think, for candidates of different generations. Different life experiences produce vastly different outlooks.
The whole Sanders-Trump dichotomy reminds me of the old 1983 American comedy film “Trading Places” starring Dan Akroyd and Eddie Murphy. It told the story of an upper-class commodities broker (Akroyd) and a homeless street hustler (Murphy) whose lives cross paths when they are unknowingly made part of an elaborate bet and their places in lives are switched. It was similar to Mark Twain’s classic 19th-century novel “The Prince and the Pauper.”
Just as economic experiences affect your attitudes, generational ones do, as well. That is the argument that Goldstein makes. “The future might rest on electing a sufficiently ‘woke’ candidate who can connect with a gender-fluid generation, plus set a deadline to save the planet and also develop policies to protect Americans from violence.”
She suggests that, for the long term, maybe we should consider an age limit to bookend the constitutional provision making 35 years old the minimum threshold for presidential authority. “A reasonable maximum might be 70 (or possibly 75 to accommodate the many geezers who would want to be grandfathered in).”
Is Goldstein right? With the 2020 presidential campaign upon us, I am curious what Post readers think. Our weekly online poll question is, “Do we need a younger president next time?”