Last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont was hospitalized for chest pain after campaigning in Las Vegas. After a few days of silence, Sanders’ campaign announced he had suffered a heart attack. Sanders was able to return home in stable condition after spending three days in the hospital.
The issue of politicians and health issues is not new. The bodies of presidential candidates must cope with the physical stress of traveling during campaign season. Once elected, an official’s mind becomes tested by the constant media scrutiny that comes with holding political office.
Serving constituents is a tall task for any person at any level, especially an elderly person at the presidential level. Bernie Sanders is currently 78 years old, while other prominent figures such as Joe Biden (76), Donald Trump (73) and Elizabeth Warren (70) are also well past retirement age. Additionally, Hillary Clinton was 69 at the time of her loss in the 2016 election, which followed a campaign of numerous health concerns.
It is silly to suggest Clinton’s health was the sole downfall of her presidential campaign, but the idea of an ailing leader can certainly turn voters away. If Bernie Sanders is elected, he would turn 80 during his first year in office, and Joe Biden would turn 79 in a similar scenario. Both of these ages are already past the average American life expectancy of 78.6, and this number is even lower for men.
Those who write off the concept of a candidate’s age as “just a number” recognize the importance of conducting a thorough analysis of their policies before casting a vote. However, it is difficult to downplay the role of age in this campaign. According to a Sept. 29 poll, the three oldest candidates (Biden, Warren and Sanders) happen to be the three most popular candidates among Democratic voters. This comes in spite of a Pew Research poll in which only 3% of Democrats said their ideal candidate was older than 70.
Unless they are applied to the context of the campaigning process, statistics surrounding the age question are of little importance. The implications that age has on Bernie Sanders’ campaign are undeniable, and I can see these questions continuing to spill over to Joe Biden’s campaign as well.
In the third Democratic debate, Julián Castro called out issues with Biden’s memory in what many perceived to be an attack that went too far. While Castro’s delivery was not great, he raised an important question to which Biden had no answer. The next day, Biden told reporters that Castro “had his facts wrong.”
For better or worse, Castro exposed the former vice president’s confusion and wit. While the debate was overall a success for Biden, he has yet to demonstrate the consistent ability to play from “ahead of the 8-ball.” He tends to become defensive and erratic in the face of pressing questions about his age, memory or political proposals.
In 1984, 73-year-old Ronald Reagan defeated Democratic challenger Walter Mondale to become the oldest winner of a presidential election. Despite facing some health issues in his second term, Reagan was able to complete eight full years in the Oval Office, and his presidency is generally ranked favorably by scholars today. Thirty-five years later, Reagan’s situation has repeated itself.
To effectively squash the age-related concerns surrounding their candidacy, frontrunners Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders must demonstrate that they are sharp, quick-witted and “presidential” on the national stage. Regardless of which 70-something candidate prevails in these primaries, their mental astuteness will surely be tested by another 70-something: President Donald Trump.
Carson Swick is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.