Linda Chavez: Age matters for Clinton and Trump
In March 2015, I wrote a column suggesting Hillary Clinton was too old to run for president. It generated a lot of blowback, as I suspected it would, even though she hadn’t yet formally announced her candidacy.
Carter Eskew, who ran Al Gore’s media campaign in 2000, berated me in The Washington Post for “the sexist and ageist nature” of what I had written and called it “remarkably outrageous.” But Clinton’s recent bout of pneumonia and episodes of appearing to lose her balance in public raise important questions, and age should not be off-limits as a topic. To be clear, the same concerns apply to Donald Trump — in my view, even more so.
No matter who wins the election this year, we will be getting a president not in his or her prime. Why do we have to pretend that age doesn’t matter anymore — that 70 is the new 60 or even the new 50? Yes, we’re living longer, but our bodies and minds deteriorate over time, no matter how well we take care of ourselves.
I say this as a 69-year-old woman who eats well, walks 4 or 5 miles nearly every day, works long hours, travels 75,000 miles a year, writes prolifically and is in generally good health. But I can’t pull an all-nighter working on an article as I did even a few years ago or do a 10-mile mountain hike without paying the consequences.
It is foolish for most people my age to pretend they have the same energy, stamina or capacity they did when they were young. There are exceptions — athletes and fitness fanatics, perhaps — but neither Clinton nor Trump falls in those categories, which is why it is so important that both of them release their medical records. Clinton, despite hiding her pneumonia from the public for several days after it was diagnosed, has been far more forthcoming than Trump. She’s released a list of her medications and details about her history of hyperthyroidism and deep vein thrombosis, as well as information on a concussion she suffered while secretary of state.
Trump, on the other hand, has given virtually no useful information. On Thursday, he pulled a typical Trump public relations stunt by going on “The Dr. Oz Show,” releasing the barest of details about his health but not the actual medical records.
Campaigns are grueling, and it’s no wonder Clinton became ill, especially at her age.
According to the National Institute on Aging, “a lifetime of stress on our bodies is thought to contribute to immunosenescence,” or the gradual deterioration of our immune systems’ ability to respond to infections or receive protection through vaccinations. Clinton was vaccinated against pneumonia, according to her doctor, but she got it anyway, which suggests her immune system didn’t respond as well as might a younger person’s.
But if Clinton’s age is a factor, Trump is even older and is hardly a fit specimen. So why hasn’t Trump become ill on the campaign trail? Maybe he has. Who knows? He’s not the same kind of retail politician as Clinton, and his schedule has been lighter than hers. He takes days off from campaigning, travels in luxury and infamously dislikes shaking hands (though he seems to do it more often now than in the primaries).
Maybe he is as healthy as he claims to be, but his late-night tweets, his repetitive speech patterns, his apparent inability to learn anything about public policy, his memory lapses — even about his own statements — his paranoia and his conspiracy theories all raise at least the possibility that he’s suffering some cognitive decline. Given the choice between a candidate who is physically less robust and one who’s declining mentally, I’d say the latter is scarier.
The Constitution bars candidates below the age of 35 from running for president, and no one complains. Maybe it’s time we think about upper limits, as well. Nearly three-quarters of S&P 500 companies have mandatory retirement policies in place for their corporate directors, and about a third of big corporations set upper limits on the age of CEOs, as well. Although a 1986 law prohibits employers from forcing retirement because of age, important categories are exempt, including airline pilots, air traffic controllers and law enforcement officers. The presidency is certainly more complex and demanding than any of those jobs.
The 25th Amendment provides for the removal of a president who becomes incapacitated, but is it really so outrageous to consider whether we need to put a cap on the age at which a president can be sworn in, too? It’s just hubris to pretend age is totally irrelevant to the ability to do the job. Sure, the voters are capable of deciding the issue in most elections. But this time around, they really have no choice.