Should There Be an Age Limit for Holding Elected Office?

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) gestures during an exchange with former Vice President Joe Biden, left, about his opposition to school busing as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) looks on during the Democratic presidential debate in Miami on Thursday night, June 27, 2019. Doug Mills / ©2019 The New York Times

Former President Jimmy Carter, 95 years old next month, was asked during a recent town hall at the Carter Center in Atlanta whether he would consider running for president again.

Carter was defeated by Ronald Reagan in 1980 after serving only one term in office. He is technically eligible to run again, and indeed former President Grover Cleveland ran successfully for two non-consecutive terms in the 19th century.

Carter, for his part, responded to the question with a joke: “I hope there’s an age limit.”

But then he went on to discuss the issue of age and presidents far more seriously. Here’s the video:

“You know, if I were just 80 years old, if I was 15 years younger, I don’t believe I could undertake the duties that I experienced when I was president,” Carter told the audience. “For one thing, you have to be very flexible with your mind. You have to be able to go from one subject to another and concentrate on each one adequately and then put them all together in a comprehensive way.”

“The things I faced just in foreign affairs, I don’t think I could undertake them if I was 80 years old,” he continued. “So 95 is out of the question. I’m having a hard time walking. I think the time has passed for me to be involved actively in politics, must less run for president.”

Should there be an age limit for the presidency? Can anyone, however smart and talented and accomplished, be up to the rigors of the White House when in their late 70’s or 80’s?

Those are interesting remarks because not one but two of the candidates vying for the presidency in 2020 would turn 80 in the White House if elected. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders just turned 78 years old earlier this month. Former Vice President, and the current frontrunner, Joe Biden will turn 77 in November.

Incumbent President Donald Trump, by the way, is no spring chicken either. He’s currently 73.

All this raises an interesting question: Should there be an age limit for the presidency? Can anyone, however smart and talented and accomplished, be up to the rigors of the White House when in their late 70’s or 80’s?

It’s a fair question for Congress and other elected offices, too. We’ve all seen the Senators or Representatives who are so infirm it’s impossible to think they’re really all that engaged in the process of legislating. Many of these people are kept in place because their names are so electable. It’s their staff making most of the decisions.

It is, admittedly, an indelicate thing to talk about. Plus, age can be a relative thing. Some people wear their years better than others.

I’m not sure there should be a law capping the age of presidents or members of Congress, but the question each voter is asked to answer about a given candidate has to do with that candidate’s competence and effectiveness. Things which can be compromised by age.

As Carter acknowledges, there is such a thing as too old for elected office, and we shouldn’t be afraid of talking about it.

By the way, North Dakota Senator John Hoeven is 62 years old. Senator Kevin Cramer is 58 and Congressman Kelly Armstrong is 42. Governor Doug Burgum is currently 63, and actually the third oldest occupant of that office in state history.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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