GREENWOOD — Most of the candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination are treading softly — some more softly than others — around the question of whether Joe Biden is too old to be president.
Biden, the perceived frontrunner in the crowded field vying to challenge Donald Trump, would be 78 on Election Day, which, as The Associated Press has reported, would make Biden older on his first day in the White House than Ronald Reagan was on his last day.
Apparently the younger candidates are frightened, and maybe they have done polling that backs up this fear, that if they make too much of Biden’s age — and his regular verbal gaffes — it will turn off senior citizens, the most active and reliable bloc of voters.
The thing is, no one better than those over the age of 70 knows that the job of president — and all the emotional, physical and mental toll it takes on an individual — is better suited for someone not old enough to draw full Social Security benefits.
Just look at the before and after pictures of those who have served in the presidency. The job ages you quickly.
And yet, it is considered likely that when voters go to the polls in November 2020, they will be choosing between two septuagenarians — either Trump, who is 73, or, on the Democratic side, Biden, Elizabeth Warren, now 70, or the eldest of them all, Bernie Sanders, now 78.
We presume this is a reflection of the nation’s aging population and the advances of medical science. People are generally living longer, and that’s showing up not just in this year’s presidential contest but in Congress and on the Supreme Court, where doddering incumbents hang onto their positions of power, even after it becomes clear that they are being propped up by the younger people who work for them.
Although medical advances and better diets may have slowed a person’s physical deterioration, we are not aware of any advances that have significantly slowed the mental decline that most people start to see in their 70s, if not sooner. Reagan, for all the accolades about him, was showing signs of dementia during his last term as president and would eventually be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s five years after he left office.
It is estimated that 1 in 7 people over the age of 70 will suffer from dementia. It’s legitimate to ask whether this country should take a 15 percent chance that whoever wins in 2020 won’t slip into that category while he or she is in office.
Kalich is editor and publisher of The Greenwood Commonwealth.