Age and the presidency

By Michael P. Riccards

The Founding Fathers, in their wisdom added to the new constitution of 1787 age minimums for the major elective offices — 25 for the House, 30 for the Senate, and 35 for the presidency. 

One must be at least 35 to become president, and two were in their early forties —  Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. They were both professional politicians, born to wealth and privilege, who liked to project images of youth and vigor, although both had serious health problems.

But the Founders never considered, as we must, age limits on the other end of life. With the advances in longevity and the sophistication of medical and drug care, presidents are living longer, running later, and governing into their 70s and beyond. Despite our belief that age brings wisdom, one must acknowledge the severe limitations that come with advanced years.

If one looks at the great presidents — Washington, Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt — they were all successful in their 50s,  Reagan, Trump, and even Biden are the oldest modern presidents, and one can see the lapses that aging brings. Reagan did not even recognize a Black cabinet member in his Administration; Trump’s behavior bordered on insanity, and Biden at a public rally was looking for an old congressional colleague who had died months before. Should very old candidates run for public office, especially a position with nuclear weapons attached to it?

It is frequently said that politics has become so brutal, good men and women do not wish to engage in constant gutter combat. But surely Lincoln and FDR were subject to onslaughts of criticism, but still, it is obvious that they did not experience 24/7 media scrutiny. Adverse media commentators are opposed to what presidents do, even before they take the oath of office.

That situation is aggravated by the role of political parties. Political parties are not serving the republic well, and the Grand Old Party is partially controlled by the irrational Trumpites that seriously impede the democratic process bordering on sedition. The Democrats are re re-running old worn-out candidates because, in baseball terminology, they have no strength on the bench. Where are their 50-year-olds? Where is their near future? They constantly talk of the New Deal without remembering that at his first inaugural, FDR was only 50 years of age.  

So it behooves us, old folks, to move over and allow a new generation with its dreams, experiences, and aspirations to come forth.  And we can only do that by passing a constitutional amendment capping a president’s first election at age 60.   

Michael P. Riccards, a former college president. is the author of 30 books, including a two-volume history of the presidency, The Ferocious Engine of Democracy, and the recently published Woodrow Wilson as Commander-in-Chief. Riccards wrote this article for the Jandoli Institute.

Categories: Jandoli Institute, Media, Michael Riccards, Politics

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