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Should There be a Constitutional Barrier to 80-year-old Presidents?

Should There be a Constitutional Barrier to 80-year-old Presidents?

Clearly, the drafters of the Constitution thought that there was an age at which a person cannot carry out the duties of the President of the United States.  They believed that no one under the age of 35 has the knowledge and experience to be an effective President – and they picked that age when the life expectance was less than 60 years.  It did not reach 70 years of age until 1984 – and is currently around 77.

That means President Biden and President Trump are in the red zone – those years when “anything can happen.”  They are both past their statistical life expectancy.

To understand the relative times in which the Founders were founded, you need to recognize their ages at the times.  Of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, only eight were over the age of 60 – with Benjamin Franklin being the oldest at the age of 70.  By today’s standards, this was a conclave of young men — mostly in the mid-30s to mid-40s range.

We can only assume why the Founders did not put a maximum age in the Constitution.  Perhaps they just believed those who became too old or too diminished would not be in line for the presidency.  Whatever they thought, we only know that there is no age limitation at the upper end.

For more than 230 years, the Founders may have been right.  A presidential candidate’s age or vitality has rarely been a significant consideration in past presidential elections.  When he ran for his fourth term, Franklin Roosevelt was dying, but the voting public never knew it.  

President Carter, who was currently in hospice at the age of 98, declared that no person over the age of 80 is fit to carry out the responsibility of the presidency.  I tend to agree.  In fact, most people over the age of 80 seem to concur.  Polls show that most voters of any age seem to concur.  An ABC News/Washington Post poll showed that 68 percent of the public believes Biden is too old to be President.  He would be 86 at the end of a second term.   Trump would be 82 at the end of a second term.  By the Carter standard, they are both too old.

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley got a lot of blowback for suggesting that Biden may not finish a second term.  The blowback was mostly based on superstitions about speaking of another person’s death – or even our own.  But … Haley is not wrong.  It is not only a fair consideration but also an essential one.  The disruption of a President dying in office is never good.

When it was recognized the danger that Roosevelt posed by assuming the presidency on a permanent basis, America’s leaders – Republican and Democrat quickly passed the 22nd Amendment to prevent that from ever happening again.  George Washington’s two-term tradition was not institutionalized, perhaps because the Founders never thought a person would live long enough to run for president so many times.  (If that was their thinking, they were wrong.  Jefferson lived to be 83, John Adams 90, James Madison 85, and John Quincy Adams 80). 

With age being brought to the fore as a significant campaign issue, should we engage in a national discussion about a constitutional amendment to set a maximum age?  I vote “Yes”.  

Many businesses impose age limits on CEOs.  Even the authoritarian and secretive Vatican has set an age limit on ordaining cardinals – and the College of Cardinals has always been not only an age-old institution but an old-age institution.

I would favor an amendment that would set an age after which a person is ineligible to run for President at 70.  That would mean that no President would be older than 78 upon leaving office.  That is in keeping with the Carter position – with which I agree.

I know there are a lot of folks who are – or at least appear to be – very vital at 80 or even 90.  But they are rare exceptions.  It is about 70 when most folks start to experience the “ravages of aging.”  We have to legislate for the common experience, not the exceptional.

I am lucky.  At 80, I still play tennis, bowl four times a week and occasionally jump out of an airplane.  I have never needed prescription glasses.  No lung issues.  No joint pain.  Low blood pressure. And blood tests that are all quite normal.  No mind or memory issues.  My doctors rate my health as remarkably good for a man my age.  BUT … do not think I have the energy and ability to carry out the duties of a President effectively.   I understand that I could look good in public by limited my exposure and rely on carefully scripted pre-recorded public statements – and having a lot of down time.  Sort of the Biden approach.  But that is not good for America.

If a person has not fulfilled their ambition to mount a bid for the presidency by the age of 69, I think they need to go into retirement – or exert their energies in other less critical areas.  Be a senator … an ambassador … a college president … a talk show host.  But not a President of the most powerful and complex nation on earth.

My presidential campaign slogan is “Out by 80.”  I could dub it “The Carter Amendment” in honor of his observation. I am sure neither Trump nor Biden will campaign on my proposal.  But what do you think?

So. There ‘tis.

About The Author

Larry Horist

So,there‘tis… The opinions, perspectives and analyses of Larry Horist Larry Horist is a businessman, conservative writer and political strategist with an extensive background in economics and public policy. Clients of his consulting firm have included such conservative icons as Steve Forbes and Milton Friedman. He has served as a consultant to the Nixon White House and travelled the country as a spokesman for President Reagan’s economic reforms. He has testified as an expert witness before numerous legislative bodies, including the U. S. Congress. Horist has lectured and taught courses at numerous colleges and universities, including Harvard, Northwestern, DePaul universities, Hope College and his alma mater, Knox College. He has been a guest on hundreds of public affairs talk shows, and hosted his own program, “Chicago In Sight,” on WIND radio. Horist was a one-time candidate for mayor of Chicago and served as Executive Director of the City Club of Chicago, where he led a successful two-year campaign to save the historic Chicago Theatre from the wrecking ball. An award-winning debater, his insightful and sometimes controversial commentaries appear frequently on the editorial pages of newspapers across the nation. He is praised by readers for his style, substance and sense of humor. According to one reader, Horist is the “new Charles Krauthammer.” He is actively semi-retired in Boca Raton, Florida where he devotes his time to writing. So, there ‘tis is Horist’s signature sign off.