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Biden vs. Trump is forcing Americans to confront the age issue. But no one will answer one big question

OpinionBiden vs. Trump is forcing Americans to confront the age issue. But no one will answer one big question

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How old is too old to be president? The current race has brought this question front and center into the national debate. Unfortunately, despite the fact that one candidate is 77 and the other is 81, we still don’t have an answer.

One of the reasons we don’t know for certain is that modern technology, medication, and an increase awareness of the importance of exercise, sleep, and good diet have increased what is known as healthspan, meaning an older person can stay healthier and functional longer.

Whatever you thought of President Joe Biden’s State of the Union speech this week, whether you admired his sudden energy and vitality and cohesiveness, or whether you were struck instead by his anger, it still didn’t directly answer the age question which remained on everyone’s mind. 

BIDEN’S STATE OF THE UNION SPEECH ANSWERED ONE BIG QUESTION

Is he too old to lead? Is former President Donald Trump? Even neurologists are debating the question. Some feel that as we age, experience and wisdom may compensate for a problem with memory retrieval, while others point out that it is nimbleness and adroit judgment which wanes along with an impaired cognition. 

Keep in mind that chronological age is just a number and biological age may matter more. It is affected directly by underlying medical conditions including obesity (which President Trump appears to suffer from), diabetes, or as in President Biden’s case, a heart rhythm abnormality known as atrial fibrillation (which can lead to cognitive impairment or mini-strokes). 

But though underlying conditions are important factors when it comes to fitness, they still don’t answer the bigger question, how old is too old to serve? Should there be age limits? Should physical and mental tests become more automatic and comprehensive as a president ages? And how old is too old? If 80 isn’t a cutoff number, is 90? Or are all bets off? 

BIDEN’S STATE OF THE UNION SPEECH REINFORCED MENTAL ACUITY AND AGE CONCERNS, REPUBLICANS SAY

Consider that famed statesmen and former secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, who recently died at 100, was giving the Al Smith dinner keynote speech a few months before his death and said sagely, “The current risks are so great that “we cannot afford a divided nation in a world in which nuclear power is matched by the growth of artificial intelligence, which removes all obstacles to accuracy and distance.” How brilliant is that? 

Meanwhile, legendary producer Norman Lear announced he was producing a new TV series (a reboot of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman), at 99 before dying at 101 with several other shows in the works. Lear was clearly functioning on all cylinders when he died. 

My own father, age 100 currently, wears a hat that says “it took me a hundred years to look this good,” and says that if he were elected president his first executive order would be to allow the importation of Cuban cigars.

FELLOW 80-YEAR-OLDS WEIGH IN ON PRESIDENT BIDEN’S AGE, ABILITIES AHEAD OF ELECTION: ‘YOU DON’T BOUNCE BACK’

On the other hand, no one is denying that youthfulness doesn’t correlate with vigor and vitality. Consider Bill Clinton’s State of the Union speeches. In 1995, at the age of 48, he said, “All Americans … are rightly disturbed by the large numbers of illegal aliens entering our country. The jobs they hold might otherwise be held by citizens or legal immigrants. The public service they use impose burdens on our taxpayers.” This statement was certainly prescient.

Or in 1994, when Clinton famously delivered his State of the Union speech from memory because the wrong speech was loaded into the Teleprompter.  Hard to match that performance, no matter what your age, though being 47 years old with a photographic memory certainly didn’t hurt.

Technology has overturned the meaning of getting old, but it has not really succeeded yet in turning back the clock. We don’t yet have the anti-inflammatory anti-aging chemicals or robotics or artificial intelligence aides or neurolinks which can directly battle aging. 

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One thing’s for sure, no matter how far we advance, there will always be a point where a candidate for higher office will be too old and it is time for the baton to be passed. 

Most Americans feel that we have already reached that point in this election, though the younger candidate certainly has an advantage.

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM MARC SIEGEL

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