Should age be a factor when evaluating the qualifications of our next U.S. president? The question arises because of speculation that former Vice President Joe Biden—at age 76—is considering a run for the White House in 2020.
Age certainly will be raised if Biden decides to seek the presidency. Does he have the energy to meet the demands of the Oval Office? Does he have the wisdom to lead America in negotiations with world leaders about the increasingly complicated world of the global community? Is he sensitive to the changing domestic challenges that include not only jobs, health, education and infrastructure but also the cultural environment including identity politics? Or can we assume that his decades of public service—as laudable as some would argue—are likely to be tainted by sclerotic thinking and a fondness for traditional proposals unsuited to today’s changing times?
I generally oppose older persons holding elective office. Part of my objection is philosophical; part is recognition of my own declining energy as I age. I have argued elsewhere that elected public servants should have term limits and voters should deny their reelection after a decade in office. Congress, especially, is occupied by scores of members who have long outlived their usefulness.
Supreme Court justices have lifetime appointments. They are not elected. Although intellectually challenging, their physical demands are minimal. Unlike the president, the justices are not required to react to multiple challenges or unexpected crises. The justices can work and live in relative isolation—free from the pressures that would tax any individual, especially an elderly person.
However, the president needs physical stamina, mental agility, wisdom, administrative and legislative experience, and cultural sensitivity. These are qualifications honed over decades. Any presidential candidate should possess all of these traits if she or he is to be successful. Some recent presidents have shown physical vigor. But their inexperience with both administrative and legislative demands proved to be deficits that resulted in poor decisions and ineffective tenures.
Joe Biden can and should continue to be a valuable source of wisdom and counsel for future elected officials including the next occupant of the White House. But Biden should not seek the presidency. That job should go to a younger qualified candidate.