Be careful about scorning the old
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Former secretary of state and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton is seen as a potential Democratic candidate for president. Some Republicans have started to suggest she will be too old for the job when she turns 69 in 2016. That was the age of Republican Ronald Reagan when elected in 1980, and he was 73 when re-elected.
It’s a merry din that Republicans are making, as if they just took notice of Hillary Clinton’s age, three years before the next presidential election. (That’s 12 cycles of Botox, if anyone’s counting.)
Clinton will be 69 when inaugurated — and yes, inaugurated she will be, if her enemies retain the inane and oily strategy of suggesting that she’s too old to be president. It’s a bizarre political miscalculation in a country creaky with Baby Boomers, who are turning 65 at a rate of 10,000 a day. And it will backfire, creating fervent Clintonistas out of the mud masks of undecided women with no budget for cosmetic injections.
Still, the Hillary haters chant their Rime of the Ancient President in an increasingly odious cadence, hoping to ridicule her into an early retirement with unflattering photographs and schoolboy digs.
Stuart Stevens, 60, Mitt Romney’s former strategist, says, “She’s been around since the ’70s,” as Sen. Mitch McConnell, 71, ridicules the likely Democratic field as “a rerun of ‘The Golden Girls.’” The Democrats should be so lucky; Betty White, the sole surviving Golden Girl, is 91, and her favorables have never been higher.
But the Republicans are old elephants thundering across a field pocked with land mines, seemingly ignorant of their own aging base and the wizened faces of their most beloved spokesmen. You can love Ronald Reagan (inaugurated at 69) as I do, and still wonder if the party that featured Clint Eastwood at its last national convention should be cackling that Hillary Clinton is old news.
Age isn’t the problem; malice is. Fact: You can’t have senior statesmen devoid of seniority, and you can’t have seniority without Botox or wrinkles. This is why Newt Gingrich, 70, is the face of conservatism on the regenerated “Crossfire” on CNN, and up against him, the fresher-faced Stephanie Cutter stands no chance even though she’s 44 and from Raynham.
Gingrich, like Clinton, is no Beaujolais nouveau; they’ve both become more palatable with age. In the fine wash of time, jaws soften, sins retreat, and inconsistencies fade, vanishing, in time, like so many billing records. There are plenty of good reasons not to elect Clinton in 2016 (or Gingrich, ever again), but age isn’t among them.
Many of America’s ills can be blamed on our obsession with youth, and a rude and jowly interruption of the national juvenility may do us good. At least it will cut down on filibustering, since it consumes great stores of energy to bloviate.
The number of 65-plus Americans will nearly double within the next 30 years, and we need role models other than the Rolling Stones, who are scaring the horses and should no longer be allowed to gyrate in public. Strut gently into that dark night, guys. But public service proffers a dignity befitting the aging, and fills the void left when Walmart stopped hiring greeters. In many ways, it is the ideal finish to a professional life, a chance to put accumulated wisdom to use benefiting the greater good. More of us should enter politics late in life. And we might, if not dissuaded by the prospect of being continually told that we look, in the language of Coleridge, “seven days drowned.”
Harvard’s Erik Erikson defined the eight stages of life, the last of which — late adulthood — was “65 to death.” In political circles, 65 and death still seem to be in the same category, even though the parameters of adolescence seem to stretch daily. Our Framers knew better, setting a minimum age of 35 to be president — but no maximum. Politicians of Clinton’s vintage are no doubt keenly aware of this, as their 46 million fellow baby boomers see Social Security morphing from abstract political issue to eagerly awaited direct deposit.
That’s the “ready money” Benjamin Franklin said was one of three faithful friends. The other two were an old dog and an old wife. He’d have made a fine old president.
Jennifer Graham is a columnist for The Boston Globe.