Dem 2020 Debate

Democratic presidential candidates, from left, Andrew Yang, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders enter the stage before the start of a debate June 27 in Miami. There is a 40-year gap between the youngest and oldest candidates, with Sanders the oldest at 77 and Buttigieg the youngest at 37.

‘Bernie Sanders is really too old,” says one talking head. “But Beto O’Rourke is too inexperienced,” says another.

For the first time in a long time, a Democratic presidential candidate’s age is a matter of interest if not concern. Sanders is 79. When former Vice President Joe Biden, 76, was first elected to the Senate, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Hawaiian U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and former HUD Secretary Julian Castro had not been born yet and O’Rourke was two months old.

But we must remember the winner will face President Donald Trump, 73, our oldest first-term president. Of course, John F. Kennedy (the youngest elected president) and Ronald Reagan (the oldest serving) rank among the top 15 of U.S. presidents by presidential scholars.

Incidentally, these Democratic candidates’ ages are as of this writing. They keep having birthdays.

Reagan, then in his early 70s, famously deflected a question about his age during his 1984 re-election campaign against 56-year-old Walter Mondale: “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

And it may not be all bad to be an elderly candidate in this campaign: Americans age 65 and over are expected to make up 23 percent of the electorate in 2020. That is their largest share since at least 1970.

Maybe age isn’t all that important. Then again, there is something to be said for the young achievers. When I hit 33, a decade ago — OK, maybe more — I figured out what I had done up until then: not much. But I wanted to check out the competition and put it in a book. At the age of 33, William Howard Taft was solicitor general of the U.S., Jesus Christ was crucified and Thomas Jefferson was putting the finishing touches on the Declaration of Independence. Tom, I could have done that, too, if my PC was smarter.

Jefferson’s rival, Alexander Hamilton, was a lieutenant colonel in the Continental Army and George Washington’s aide-de-camp at the age of 22, having already distinguished himself in battle as an artillery officer. When Hamilton was 32, he wrote about two-thirds of “The Federalist Papers,” which explained and interpreted the Constitution. To this day it is considered one of the great works of American intellect. When I was 32, I was trying to learn how to spell federalist.

Washington himself was an early bloomer. He was the surveyor of Culpepper County at 17 and a colonel in the Army at 22. James Madison helped write the Virginia state constitution at 25. Then there was George Armstrong Custer, who was a brigadier general at 24 — and a scalp at 37.

We must not forget the ladies. Cleopatra was queen of Egypt when she was 20, while Joan of Arc never saw 18. Malala Yousafzai was the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 17. She was an advocate for the education of girls, so the Taliban shot her, but she survived.

Mozart had his first sonatas for piano and violin published when he was 7, two years after making his musical debut in Munich. At 12, he was commissioned by the emperor of Austria to write an opera, but didn’t finish it until he was 13. Procrastinating adolescent. Napoleon, as a 24-year-old artillery officer, drove off the British fleet in Toulon harbor, later seized the cannons of insurgents and mowed them down in the Paris streets, then killed a few years and several thousand soldiers and crowned himself Emperor of France. He was 35.

Closer to home, in 1834, Abraham Lincoln was a 25-year-old member of the Illinois state legislature and was never heard of again. Lyndon Johnson was a 23-year-old school teacher in Houston, but six years later, Johnson was a U.S. congressman. Mark Zuckerberg at age 23 became the world’s youngest self-made billionaire. As of Nov. 30, 2018, his net worth was estimated to be $55 billion.

But getting back to our presidential candidates and their ages, we must consider their backups, the vice presidents. Fourteen vice presidents eventually became president. Nine ascended to the presidency due to the death of the president, either by assassination or illness. This time around, we should check the health of both the presidential candidate and his or her running mate. If re-elected, Trump will be 78 at the end of his second term. How does President Mike Pence sound?

Lynn Ashby is a Houston-based columnist. Contact him at ashby2@comcast.net

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