Jimmy Carter: 80 Too Old for Presidents
The oldest living former President has some reflections on age and the strains of the office.
The 39th President of the United States has a sharp message for those seeking to replace the 45th.
Weeks shy of his 95th birthday, former President Jimmy Carter said he doesn’t believe he could have managed the most powerful office in the world at 80 years old.
One might be inclined to note that he didn’t manage it all that well in his early 50s but that would be unkind. And, in hindsight, unfair.
Nor, incidentally, was this a calculated shot at the current field.
Carter, who earlier this year became the longest-lived chief executive in American history, didn’t tie his comments to any of his fellow Democrats running for president in 2020, but two leading candidates, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, would turn 80 during their terms if elected.
Biden is 76. Sanders is 78.
“I hope there’s an age limit,” Carter said with a laugh as he answered audience questions on Tuesday during his annual report at the Carter Center in Atlanta. “If I were just 80 years old, if I was 15 years younger, I don’t believe I could undertake the duties I experienced when I was president.”
Carter’s observation came in response to a jovial inquiry about whether he had considered running in 2020 since he’s still constitutionally allowed another term.
Carter was elected before my 11th birthday. I’m now older than he was when he was inaugurated. And, all kidding about his administration aside, I think he’s right here.
An interesting factoid:
The 39th president left office in 1981 at the age of 56 after losing his reelection bid to Ronald Reagan, who served two terms and left office as the oldest sitting president in history, at 77.
Either Biden or Sanders would be older upon their inauguration than Reagan was on his final day in the Oval Office. At 73, President Donald Trump is a record setter, as well. He eclipsed Reagan’s mark as the oldest newly elected president in history and would become the oldest president to be reelected. Age has been a flashpoint for some critics of Trump, Sanders and Biden. [emphasis added]
As well it should be. While there may well be “super-agers” who maintain their energy and mental agility well into their old age—hell, Carter himself is clearly among them—it’s not the way to bet.
Carter, who turns 95 on Oct. 1, said the Oval Office requires a president “to be very flexible with your mind,” particularly on foreign affairs. He was speaking on the 41st anniversary of the Camp David Accords, a peace agreement he negotiated with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.
“You have to be able to go from one subject to another and concentrate on each one adequately and then put them together in a comprehensive way, like I did between Begin and Sadat with the peace agreement,” Carter said.
“The things I faced in foreign affairs, I don’t think I could undertake them at 80 years old,” he continued, before adding with a smile: “At 95, it’s out of the question. I’m having a hard time walking.”
Now, of course, we already have ample evidence that Donald Trump can’t meet these demands now. Whether it’s a function of age, attention span, or something else is impossible to say from this vantage point. But one would certainly prefer a President in their 50s or 60s to one in their 70s or 80s, all things being equal.
As you know, one votes for the candidates one has, not the candidates you might want or wish to have at a later time.
Carter said he remains undecided in the 2020 primary.
“I’m going to keep an open mind,” he said, explaining that he wants to vote for a candidate who pledges to make the U.S. the world’s leading champion for peace, human rights and equality. “One of the major factors I will have in my mind is who can beat Trump,” he added, noting that he’ll vote for the Democratic nominee in the general election regardless.
It’s still early in the contest but it’s looking all the world like a choice between Biden and Elizabeth Warren. I think either can beat Trump—but he could beat either of them, too.
In an ideal world, the Democrats would be better off with a younger candidate, preferably a moderate governor from a traditionally red state. Someone like Jimmy Carter in 1976 or Bill Clinton in 1992. But none of those who offered themselves up caught on and all of them have either dropped out of the race or failed to qualify for the most recent debate.