Perry on Politics: Septuagenarians stand by

Published by Tim McNulty on .


By James M. Perry

Vice President Joe Biden and outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton both seem interested in running for president in 2016. Either one, if elected, would rank as the country's oldest president on or soon after Inauguration Day in January of 2017.

The vice president would be 75; Mrs. Clinton would be pushing 70.

reaganoathSeptuagenarians have never been sworn in on Inauguration Day. In fact, only three presidents have been over 65 on that solemn day -- William Henry Harrison (68), James Buchanan (65), and Mr. Reagan (69). Only 10, in fact, have been over 60 -- those three plus John Adams, Andrew Jackson, Zachary Taylor, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, and George H.W. Bush.

The median age for taking the oath of office is a month shy of 55.

Americans do seem to prefer middle-aged men in the White House. Our three greatest presidents -- George Washington (57), Abraham Lincoln (52) and Franklin D. Roosevelt (51) all fit that pattern.

If questioned about their age, the vice president and Mrs. Clinton could point to one -- and only one -- example of someone their age who, in Robert W. Merry's words, "accomplished what he wanted to accomplish." That, of course, would be Mr. Reagan, who served eight years in the White House overcoming on more than one occasion questions about his advancing age.

It is a little challenging, however, to imagine either Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Biden holding up the conservative Mr. Reagan as their shining example of what an older politician can do in leading the Free World. They might be forced to look abroad, to Israel's Golda Meir (71), for example, or to Germany's Konrad Adenauer (73), but, of course, most American voters would have no recollection of either.

The other two old-timers -- William Henry Harrison and Buchanan -- are no help at all. Harrison caught a cold delivering his inaugural address in the rain, and died. Buchanan (below), a nasty man, failed to do anything constructive to avert the Civil War. He was a truly lousy president.Buchanan

Our younger presidents may not always be better, but most of the time they are livelier.

Teddy Roosevelt, the vice president, was 42 when he took office following William McKinley's assassination. He was our youngest president. Jack Kennedy was 43 when he reached the White House in 1960. He was our youngest elected president. Both seemed eternally youthful.

Joe Biden who, if elected, would be Delaware's first president, might be 70, but he seems almost impish. He might just be the most boisterous vice president any of us have ever seen. No one in Washington works harder than the 65-year-old Mrs. Clinton, but even she was laid low recently.

Americans are living longer, more productive lives these days, and maybe the time will come one day for a septuagenarian (or one close to it) taking the oath of office on Inauguration Day. Two of them, surely, are standing by.

James M. Perry, a prominent veteran political reporter, is contributing regular observations for Mr. Perry was the chief political correspondent of The Wall Street Journal until his retirement. Prior to that, he covered national politics for the Dow Jones weekly, The National Observer.

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