So Hillary Clinton is running for president. Well, walking, really, and that’s only when she’s not being driven around in a heavily armored van during fast-food runs. She’s the odds-on favorite to win the White House at this notoriously unreliable stage of the game despite being really, really old for her line of work.
Dig this: If Hillary is elected, she’ll be 69 years old when she takes office in January 2017. That’s not just old, that’s William Henry Harrison old. It’s Ronald Reagan old. Yet her advanced age doesn’t matter one liver spot in the campaign, nor should it. We may be divided by vitally important issues—Iranian nukes, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and whether we should finally adopt European shoe sizes (per Lincoln Chaffee’s bold policy proposals)—but we can certainly agree that aging is nothing like it used to be when The Who and The Rolling Stones sang mid-’60s baby boomer anthems about hoping to “die before I get old” and “what a drag it is getting old.” (With the Stones currently on tour and Mick Jagger doing his chicken dance at the ripe old age of 71, who’s laughing now, Brian Jones?)
Simply put, there’s never been a better time to get old, and not just because old farts over 65 have massively increased their wealth relative to the rest of us and can now gum down pills that will make them think sharper, feel hornier, be more continent, and stay awake while binge-watching Murder, She Wrote on Netflix. If we have not yet defeated death and senescence, we have taken long strides toward making it a manageable condition.
You know the drill: 40 is the new 30, 60 is the new 50, and unless you’re Harrison Ford behind the controls of a vintage airplane or foolishly letting magician David Blaine into your house, 72 is the new 70 or so.
The federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) just grabbed headlines by announcing that the typical American woman today weighs more (167 pounds) than the average man did back in the 1960s (and the average man now weighs more than the cast of The Brady Bunch, including Ann B. Davis). The same agency got considerably less ink last fall when it announced that life expectancy at birth had reached a record high of 78.8 years. When Hillary Clinton, who is unapologetically campaigning as a grandmother, was born a thousand years ago in 1947, basic life expectancy was 66.8 years. That is to say, she’s in existential bonus time and, to her credit (if possibly the country’s demise), she is running for the toughest job in the world. Whatever your politics—or your age—good on her.
If and when her challengers and critics play the age card, Clinton would be well advised to update Reagan’s playbook. “Thomas Jefferson once said, ‘We should never judge a president by his age, only by his works,’” Reagan counseled once. “And ever since he told me that, I stopped worrying.” After being asked in a 1984 debate about whether he was too old and tired to remain in office, Reagan delivered a humorous smackdown that effectively ended that line of questioning. “I will not make age an issue in this campaign,” deadpanned Reagan. “I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”
Contrary to claims made by his son Ron Reagan Jr. and floated in medical journals, there’s no proof that Reagan suffered from dementia during his presidency (or, same thing, the same evidence suggests mental impairment dating back to the 1980 campaign). In any case, there’s little reason to believe that Hillary Clinton’s opponents, whether Democratic or Republican, will attack her physical or mental fitness.
Which isn’t to say that she’s immune from age-based attacks. Not on her person, but on her ideas, which are at least as “stale and moss-covered” in their own way as Rand Paul says the Republican Party has become. Looking over her left shoulder at progressive Democrats such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, Clinton often sounds like she is auditioning to implement Barack Obama’s third term. Where her husband long ago heralded the “era of big government is over” and proceeded not simply to balance the budget but drive down federal expenditures as a percentage of GDP to well-below averages (see page 345) (PDF), Clinton sounds like an old-style unreconstructed liberal who will tax, spend, and regulate like it’s 1969.
She has long spoken about the need to maintain current old-age entitlements despite their impending fiscal collapse and the unfairness of a system that robs the relatively young and poor to gild the golden years of the relatively old and wealthy. In a country that favors pot legalization, she is still an unapologetic drug warrior and her late-breaking conversion to marriage equality (like Obama’s) smacks more of political opportunism that principle.
She’s spoken vociferously against Edward Snowden but has not clarified her stance on the National Security Agency (NSA) programs he revealed and, even more important, has not yet explained where she stands on the interventionist foreign policy she stood for both as a senator from New York and as secretary of state. Despite arguably one of the most impressive resumes imaginable for the job of president, there’s very little about Clinton that screams out a 21st-century vision of government. As with her GOP counterpart in dynastic politics, she seems a throwback to the last century, not someone who will boldly move into the future.
In other words, it’s not Hillary Clinton’s aging body that’s an issue, even as she will likely square off against a Republican challenger who might be six years (Bush), 15 years (Rand Paul), or even 23 years (Marco Rubio) younger. It’s her aging ideas and policies that may cause her to stumble going forward. Lucky for her that virtually all of her opponents, despite being years younger than she is, are trading almost exclusively in ideas and rhetoric that are even more backward-looking and reeking of cultural and intellectual mothballs.