As the 2024 election season begins, there’s been a lot of discussion around Joe Biden running for a second term. He’s presently 80 and, should he win, would be 86 at the end of it. In one recent NBC poll, 70% of adults thought Biden shouldn’t run again, with 69% saying that his age was a factor. Despite his documented accomplishments since taking office, a large percentage of voters admit to a concern about his senior status. Of course, Donald Trump, who declared his candidacy for the Republican ticket, is only four years younger (and has an obviously less healthy lifestyle: he recently left a campaign event packing a cheeseburger sandwiched between two grilled cheese sandwiches and with a glop of mac n’ cheese atop it. True story).
There’s no doubt that the office of the presidency is stressful; look at how every past Chief Executive has visibly aged. It requires a leader able to perform at peak efficiency. And yet there’s a flip side to the age question: namely, having wisdom, experience, a steady and measured hand. This was precisely what the country needed as it emerged from the chaos of the Trump administration.
Unlike many cultures where elders are honored, America has always had an image of itself as a youthful country, filled with fresh, fast-moving ideas. Perhaps the candidacy of Biden gives us a chance to re-examine this – at least, on an individual basis.
Consider that Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa is 89 and seems to be doing his job just fine. On the other hand, is Senator Diane Feinstein of California, also 89. She’s been sidelined by illness, missing out on dozens of key votes. There’s been talk of her decline for the last couple of years and many are urging her to step down in order for someone to take her seat and get essential work done. That seems only right, but apparently, letting go of the status of office is an issue for this accomplished lawmaker.
These days, age is something of a relative concept. Consider that Paul McCartney is 80 and still doing energetic live shows. Same for Mick Jagger (79). Harrison Ford is 80 and has just completed a new “Indiana Jones” movie. Jane Fonda (85) and Rita Moreno (91) recently did a hit movie together. For the Boomer generation, age has been redefined – and continues to be. The way that each of us handles the challenges of growing old is different – and should be factored in when it comes to our political leaders.
In the last year or so, we’ve been seeing a new generation of young, dynamic legislators taking the stage, both at federal and state levels. Consider Representatives Justin Johnson and Justin Pearson of the TN state legislature; they made waves after being expelled for a sit-in in the well of the chamber as protest for lack of action on gun control. Since then, they’ve made impressive appearances on national media.
For his part, President Biden has been incorporating many young people into his re-election efforts, taking full advantage of their ideas and perspective. He’s working with an army of digital influencers in their 20s who know their way around TikTok and can effectively communicate his policies to younger voters.
So, it seems we’re at an inflection point, where the wisdom and experience of age is meeting the fresh energy and ideas of upcoming politicos. Balancing these two ends of the spectrum, rather than thinking that a leader is either too old or too young for the duties of office -- can only benefit the country at large.
What are your views on the age of the president? Should there be limits? What about term limits in general for Congress? Share your thoughts in our Community Soapbox!
Cindy Grogan is a writer, lover of history and "Star Trek" (TOS), and hardcore politics junkie. There was that one time she campaigned for Gerald Ford (yikes), but ever since, she's been devoted to Democratic and progressive policies.