Writer Joan Walsh wrote an interesting column at Salon this week after appearing on MSNBC’s Chris Matthews Show with her colleague, David Corn, a writer for Mother Jones. Corn would be considered a liberal, as is Walsh, so it was not so much a debate as an “interesting conversation” on the topic of age, the presidency, and Hillary Clinton. Walsh described Corn’s take on all three:
The latest pundit to suggest Clinton’s age is a serious problem is my friend David Corn of Mother Jones. “I’m not convinced yet that Hillary is going to run because she’ll be 69,” he told Chris Matthews and me on “Hardball” Monday. “The last three presidents we’ve had have been 46, 54 and 47 when they took office. America has turned to younger, more vigorous people.” He predicted that if she ran, Clinton would get a primary challenge from someone “who will wonder if America is ready again to elect somebody that old.”
Lest anyone call him sexist, Corn pointed out that he thinks Vice President Joe Biden is likewise too old to win (though Biden is five years older than Clinton, and would be 82 at the end of a theoretical second term.) “Are you the Grim Reaper?” Matthews needled him. “Is that your new role here?”
While Walsh points out that Corn’s thesis had some merit, at least in terms of the ages of past presidents, she counters with the fact that women tend to be older than men in comparable roles because they often get started later in their careers or have them interrupted, in both cases due to family and child-raising demands. Additionally, women statistically live longer than men, a well-known fact confirmed by Time Magazine:
Across the industrialized world, women still live 5 to 10 years longer than men. Among people over 100 years old, 85% are women, according to Tom Perls, founder of the New England Centenarian Study at Boston University and creator of the website LivingTo100.com. [... ]
…in general, there are maybe three things men do worse than women. They smoke a lot more. (That gender gap is fortunately shrinking, since men are smoking less and less.) They eat more food that leads to high cholesterol. And, perhaps related to that, men tend not to deal with their stress as well as women. They may be more prone to internalizing that stress rather than letting go — though that’s a fairly controversial point. Nonetheless, stress plays a very important role in cardiovascular disease.
So clearly Clinton’s got the advantage there.
There is also the more intangible matter of how baby boomers, the generation to which Clinton belongs, are redefining age and aging; approaching their “senior” years with a vigor and youthfulness that cannot be compared to how previous generations manifested their 60s, 70s and 80s. While members of the “greatest generation,” the WWII generation, were typically considered “old” by their 60s, certainly their 70s, with a look, lifestyle, and worldview to go along with that assignation, boomers have made the term “60s is the new 40s” a meme. There’s a significant number of this huge demographic continuing to express themselves just as they have since their revolutionary youth, inclusive of staying fit and athletic, keeping abreast of style, fashion, and music, and embracing a lifestyle, a perspective, that remains focused on creativity, passion, vitality, and continuing goals. In other words, they’re still very much in the game. And as long as they stay healthy, they’re staying in the game.
There were many who expected Clinton to take a long sabbatical after her many-traveled years in the State Department, particularly after her health scare with the concussion and blood clot. But it was less than a month after her misnomered retirement that she was jumping into the speaking circuit and will, no doubt, be in high demand, given that she’s the most popular politician in America and the “most admired” women in the world. One can assume, since she’s smart and not known for self-destructive behavior, that she feels healthy and energized enough to do it. There are plenty of younger people who could not put in the miles she did while Secretary of State and still be eager to get back out on the road!
Which tells us she’s got the drive and vigor of a women far younger. And, really, let’s look at how many other women of her age – and older – either ran countries or are currently running one, and holding up just find, thank you:
• Queen Elizabeth II is 86; say what you will about the English monarchy, she has always kept a busy schedule.
• Golda Meir was the Prime Minister of Israel up to the age of 76.
• Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the current President of Liberia at 74.
• Tarja Halonen, 69, current President of Finland.
• Aung San Suu Kyi, 67, chairperson of the National League for Democracy in Burma.
• Pratibha Patil, the first woman to serve as president of India until the age of 77.
The issue of aging and women in politics came up rather publicly last year in a story I wrote for Addicting Info, in which the hapless, young Luke Russert, 27, a correspondent for NBC, asked Nancy Pelosi, 72, the following question at the press conference when she announced her decision to retain her post as minority caucus leader:
“Your colleagues privately say that your decision to stay on prohibits the party from having a younger leadership. What’s your response?”
Well, you can imagine the feisty Ms. Pelosi’s response (see video at article). Russert later doubled-down with this tweet:
‘While Pelosi laughed off my Q as age-ist (sic), many House Ds will privately grip it hurts caucus that all 3 leaders are 70+.” [Source]
Maybe so. He is likely not the only member of his demographic to have such a myopic and misguided view of people in their 70s, and the stereotype persists. Walsh even suggests it becomes a form of gender discrimination:
Now, in a courtroom, policies and practices that have a “disparate, adverse impact” on women or minorities can be found to be discriminatory, and illegal, even if they’re not intended to discriminate. The American people are entitled to discriminate in their choice of presidents, of course, and they’re allowed to choose youth over experience. But to suddenly suggest that the presidency should be reserved for people in their 40s or 50s is deeply unfair to women – as well as men – who are older and can do the job. [Source]
And, of course, there’s the clear but often unspoken issue that women are culturally not allowed to age on a par with men. While gray hair and facial cragginess are considered “dignified” and rugged in a man, a woman is blasted for being saggy, matronly and unattractive. Candid pictures of Clinton looking weary, or caught in a bad light that accentuates unflattering lines, have been held up to ridicule by people like Rush Limbaugh and others who see fit to make fun of her aging process (one presumes someone like Limbaugh never looks in a mirror or surely he’d be stunned by his own disintegration!). The fact is a woman is supposed to stay young, appealing, and vibrant in order to be considered viable enough to hold a position of political prominence. Tell that to the people of Israel whose beloved Meir was a model of the “wise crone.”
Youth has its undeniable currency and in many walks of life – particularly those based on looks, athleticism and sexual appeal – it’s the commodity that trumps all others. Ask any aging actor. But the president of the United States comes with a job description that transcends age and looks to an essential requirement of experience, wisdom, intelligence and maturity, with an expectation of good health. One can be in their 40s and have those traits; one can also be in their 50s, 60s, 70s, even 80s. And anyone who’s been paying attention can see that Hillary Clinton embodies every one… and has throughout most of her career.
So to the title question: IS Hillary Clinton too old to run for President in 2016? The unequivocal answer is NO. In 2016, Clinton will be 69. 69 is the new 49. And besides, age ain’t nuthin’ but a number.
[See video of Joan Walsh/David Corn interview with Chris Matthews.]