Strange we haven’t been talking more about age.
Hillary Clinton is 68, and that’s old for a first-term presidential candidate in this country. The one thing we can say with absolute certainty is that we’d hear about it every day were it not for the fact that Donald Trump is 70.
Still, Trump seems to be finding ways to get at it. Asked during the debate about his comment that Clinton doesn’t have “a presidential look,” Trump rejoined: “She doesn’t have the stamina. I said she doesn’t have the stamina. And I don’t believe she does have the stamina. To be president of this country, you need tremendous stamina.”
I believe he’s suggesting a question about stamina. Andrew Scharlach, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who specializes in aging issues, heard “a code for ‘She’s old! She’s a woman! You know how old women are.’ ”
Newcomers to the current presidential campaign might have wondered why Trump would consider going in that direction at all, considering he was born first. The answer is that the Republican presidential nominee believes he is always an exception. This is the guy who, at the same debate, both complained about America’s deteriorating infrastructure and bragged that he was too smart to pay taxes.
Experts on the subject seem to believe that age is not something we need to fret about, and given the fact that we’re currently juggling everything from Trump being really mean to a Latina beauty queen to the possibility of his starting a nuclear war, I think we should follow their advice.
“Unless we’re going to worry if they could catch something dropping off the table, I don’t think it’d be a problem,” said Steven Austad, the scientific director of the American Federation for Aging Research. “In fact, it might be an advantage.”
Still, this provides an excellent opportunity to look back in history and discuss the campaign of William Henry Harrison. Please. Just for a second. We haven’t given William Henry nearly enough attention this election cycle.
When he ran in 1840, Harrison’s opponents made a big deal about the fact that he was 67. (“A living mass of ruined matter.”) Given that the life expectancy at the time was around 40, you can see how there’d be suggestions that he’d already overstayed his welcome.
Harrison, in response, issued a doctor’s report. It did not include extensive test results, given that there were not yet any tests. But the author still sounded far more reliable than the physician who concluded that Trump would be “the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” Harrison’s doctor just said, “Bodily vigor is as good as that of most men his age.”
But then Harrison delivered an inaugural address that went on for one hour and 45 minutes in a cold rain, got sick and died. If Donald Trump wins in November, the one thing we won’t have to worry about is his duplicating Harrison’s performance. No, Trump might talk endlessly, but he would do it from a comfy, heated plexiglass bubble while the peons stand shivering in front of him.
Feel free to argue that when it comes to age issues, women have it tougher. In 1964, when Margaret Chase Smith ran at 66 for the Republican nomination, a Los Angeles Times columnist decreed that 45 to 55 was the optimum range for a presidential candidate. Unfortunately, he added, that was the time when “the female of the species undergoes physical changes and emotional distress.” Ah, memories.
As life expectancy is getting a lot longer and people are healthier, researchers are rethinking the whole definition of old. “Seventy is the new 50. That’s not just a cliché. It really is a reasonable statement these days,” said Austad.
The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, a research organization with the worst name in the world, published a study that pushed the line back, too. “When your life expectancy is 15 years and less, then you get counted as old,” said Warren Sanderson, a professor at Stony Brook University who worked on the project. Using the most recent data available, Sanderson said that Trump, at 70, would have 14.6 years of life expectancy and Clinton, at 68, would have 18.3.
So by that new, expansive definition, there’s only one elderly candidate in this race, and his name is Donald.
It’s not clear that Trump knows how old he is — he told an interviewer that when he looks in the mirror he sees “a person who is 35 years old.”
Clinton doesn’t seem to have that problem. Back in 2008, when she was wrapping up her presidential campaign, we had a conversation in which she told me, suddenly, that her happiest days on the trail were the ones when I was covering her. This sounded stupendously flattering until she added, “It was the only time there was somebody my age on the plane.”