Hillary Clinton is old. Thank you, Republicans, for reminding us that one of America’s senior stateswomen — a former Secretary of State, Senator and First Lady — is in fact a senior. But there is a much better reason not to jump on the “Clinton 2016” bandwagon.
Suppose she does run and win. At 69-years-old, she would become the second-oldest first-term president in history.
As people get older, mental and physical abilities tend to decline. In the worst cases, people descend into senility or chronic disease. Ronald Reagan, the oldest first-term president, proved that. Only his most dedicated revisionists deny that he started slipping in his second term.
Women, at least, tend to age better than men age, and Clinton would benefit from three decades of medical advances.
Yet Clinton’s age is a red herring. The campaign trail would test her mettle. If she were not physically and mentally up to the job, it would soon become evident.
The campaign also would reveal whether her team has smart positions on a bevy of contemporary issues. She might not be a master of modern technology, a social media maven or a global warming expert, but I trust that she would surround herself with experts who are. She would have advisers, young ones, who grok such things. Meanwhile, few people can match her understanding of international relations.
Republicans are panicking about a Clinton candidacy, though, so they attempt to make age an issue.
“She’s been around since the ’70s,” a strategist to Mitt Romney’s failed presidential campaign declared recently, as if that should scare off young people.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was even blunter. “Don’t tell me that Democrats are the party of the future when their presidential ticket for 2016 is shaping up to look like a rerun of the ‘Golden Girls,’ ” he said to a laughing gathering of conservatives. The 71-year-old McConnell no doubt remembers fondly 30-year-old television shows.
This comes from a party often caricatured as angry old white men. The GOP, after all, nominated old-timers Reagan, John McCain and Bob Dole for president.
No, Clinton’s age does not trouble me. It’s this:
At the end of Hillary Clinton’s second term, two families would have held the presidency for 28 of the last 36 years — four years of George H. W. Bush, eight years of Bill Clinton, eight years of George Bush and eight years of Hillary. Only eight years of President Barrack Obama offered a respite.
The second Bush administration contained many of the same faces as the first. A second Clinton administration almost certainly would hand important positions to old family friends who were around the first time.
Our forefathers fought a revolution to escape hereditary ruling families. Two centuries later, we ratified the 22nd Amendment that limited the president to two terms and encouraged fresh blood periodically.
Nobility is so old world. Americans tossed out the monarchies. Political power is supposed to be earned here, not inherited.
In fairness, the Bushes and Clintons are not the first presidential dynasties. John and John Quincy Adams were father and son. William Henry and Benjamin Harrison were grandfather and grandson.
Those families at least had the courtesy to spread it out a bit. None of the four served more than one term, and years passed between them. William Henry Harrison, of course, died after only 32 days in office. Coincidentally, he is the current second-oldest president elected to a first term.
After them, the next-closest presidential relations were second cousins James Madison and Zachary Taylor.
This clustering of family presidential power is unprecedented, and it should trouble Americans. Yet it also shouldn’t become a litmus test that disqualifies Clinton. Rather, it is one more item to consider when looking at the candidates on the ballot.
I would like to see a woman shatter the highest glass ceiling, but it doesn’t have to be Clinton in 2016. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are among the credible alternatives who could make a run at becoming the first woman president.
Republicans also are considering the dynasty route in 2016. The matchup could be Clinton vs. Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida and George W.’s brother. If that happens, hereditary rule would prevail unless the electorate revolted to a third party.
Then, when 2024 arrives, a new generation of Clintons and Bushes could run. Bill and Hillary’s daughter Chelsea and George W.’s twin daughters Jenna and Barbara will all be old enough to be president.
Maybe we could dig up a crown, scepter and throne to replace inaugurations with coronations.
Christian Trejbal is a member of the board of directors of the Association of Opinion Journalists and chair of the Open Government Committee. Overcoming graduate degrees in philosophy, he worked as an editorial writer at The (Bend) Bulletin and The Roanoke Times for more than a decade. In 2013, he and his wife moved to Portland, Ore., where he writes freelance and provides public policy analysis. Or, as his wife prefers to say, he is a stay-at-home dude. Follow him on Twitter @ctrejbal.
Image Sources: U.S. State Department.