Vice President Joe Biden will be 73 in 2016, a year older than John McCain when the Arizona senator ran in 2008. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will turn 69 just before the 2016 Election Day. That’s the same age Ronald Reagan, the oldest person elected president, was when he was sworn into office in 1981.
History shows a spotty record at best for those presidents who served into their sixties and seventies, according to the “My History Can Beat Up Your Politics Podcast.” However, podcast host Bruce Carlson, in the episode titled “Age and the Presidency,”
The rise in promise for older presidential candidates comes as the nation’s life expectancy continues to grow. It’s now pushing 80. Interestingly, it was only 38 when the country was born. At that time, the founding fathers decided to set the presidential age requirement for 35, older than Senators or House members.
“Age was considered… (so the president) will be hopefully mature,” Carlson said of the fathers’ desires. “So it is clear that the president they wanted to be, on average, a bit older.”
A possible challenge for a Biden or Clinton campaign is how effective either would be throughout an arduous national campaign. This may not just impact their race, but down-ticket races as well, Carlson said.
While a heart attack did not keep President Dwight Eisenhower from winning re-election in 1956, it certainly curtailed the amount of campaigning he did for Republican candidates two years later. As a result, Democrats won several seats in the 1958 midterms. Eisenhower also wasn’t able to campaign for his Vice President, Richard Nixon, during the 1960 Presidential campaign, which led to John F. Kennedy becoming the youngest ever elected to the office.
Prior to Reagan’s triumphs in the 1980s, older presidents were plagued by health problems. William Henry Harrison was 68 when he was inaugurated in 1841. His term lasted just one month. Zachary Taylor was 64 when he was sworn in in 1848 and died a year later.
Taylor’s death “didn’t speak well for picking elders anymore,” Carlson said. “And his time in office makes it difficult to judge how he did. He was a bit light on positions as a candidate.”
If either Biden or Clinton win the nomination, it’s more important to look at what happened in 2008 with McCain than across the spectrum of all past presidential elections.
McCain’s “age issue manifested itself in other ways that might be instructive as to what would happen to a future candidate who had an advanced age,” said podcast host Bruce Carlson.
Specifically, Carlson noted the scrutiny placed on Sarah Palin, McCain’s nominee for vice president.
For Biden or Clinton, Carlson believes it would likely result in either picking a safe vice presidential candidate “rather than someone that might excite the base or bring in a certain nationality group, gender group, but maybe not look quite as presidential.”
"My History Can Beat Up Your Politics" is a podcast based in Philadelphia that applies history to understand today's politics better. The podcast is available on iTunes and on Stitcher Radio or can be found at http://myhistorycanbeatupyourpolitics.blogspot.com.
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