President Bush Turns 60
Today is President Bush’s 60th birthday. According to NYT reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg, he’s a little touchy about the milestone.
Let us now peek into the psyche of America’s most powerful baby boomer, George W. Bush. He is not given to self-analysis — “George is not an overly introspective person,” his wife, Laura, once said with dry understatement — but Mr. Bush turns 60 on Thursday, and like most other men hitting that milestone, he just cannot seem to get the thought off his mind.
Here is the president in June at a community college in Omaha, trying to convince himself that turning 60 is no big deal: “I’m not supposed to talk about myself, but in a month I’m turning 60. For you youngsters, I want to tell you something. When I was your age, I thought 60 was really old. It’s all in your mind. It’s not that old, it really isn’t.” And here is Mr. Bush in the Rose Garden a few weeks ago, having just returned from a surprise trip to Baghdad, when asked how he was feeling: “I’m doing all right. A little jet-lagged, as I’m sure you can imagine — nearly 60.”
Could it be that Mr. Bush, with his enviably low heart rate and penchant for two-hour mountain bike rides that exhaust Secret Service agents half his age, is worried about getting old? Is that why the president, so mindful of proper attire that he demands a coat and tie in the Oval Office even on weekends, wore a decidedly youthful red-and-white Hawaiian shirt to his two-days-early birthday dinner in the East Room of the White House Tuesday night?
If the president is worried about getting old, his friends say, he certainly has not confessed it to them, though they recognize the Big 6-0 could be a touchy subject. Mr. Bush took four friends along with him on Air Force One for a trip to Ft. Bragg, N.C., on Tuesday; all were mum about the impending birthday, refusing to disclose even the teeniest detail of the party or gifts. The president’s first cousin John Ellis said he had not broached the birthday topic with Mr. Bush, and did not intend to. “Sixty is the grimmest, don’t you think?” said Mr. Ellis, who is 53. “All these boomers lie to themselves and say at 50 you’re really 40. But at 60, you can’t do that anymore.”
Mr. Bush, having been born in 1946, is on the leading edge of the baby boom (as is former President Bill Clinton, who also turns 60 this summer) and experts in aging say he is setting a fine example for his peers. And though Mr. Bush does seem to have aged a bit in office — his hair is a little grayer, his knees gave out so he switched to biking from running — he has not had the precipitous physical decline of some of his predecessors. “He does seem a little less full-faced and a little less wide-eyed than at the beginning, but not dramatically like you see with these other guys,” said Doris Kearns Goodwin, the historian and aide to President Lyndon B. Johnson. “You don’t see a drawn look. It’s as if somehow he has psychologically not allowed the burdens to fully get to him. Maybe it’s the exercise, maybe it’s his sureness about his own decisions.”
The exercise helps. Dr. Kenneth Cooper, a Dallas fitness expert who is one of the president’s doctors, said that Mr. Bush had “an amazing aerobic capacity” and that his performance on treadmill stress tests put him in the top 1 percent of men his age. And Dr. Cooper said the president seemed determined to keep it that way; he often trains for the test. “He’s dedicated,” Dr. Cooper said. “Disciplined and dedicated.”
It does not hurt that Mr. Bush comes from healthy stock; the Bushes do not go gently into old age. The first President Bush went skydiving to celebrate his 80th birthday two years ago — a feat that brought forth an admiring joke from his son Tuesday to soldiers at Fort Bragg. “He’s the only skydiving president,” Mr. Bush said, “and that’s a distinction he’s going to keep.”
Heh. I made the five requisite jumps for my wings in the summer of 1989 but can’t imagine I’d do it today, at 40, much less twenty–or forty!–years from now.
At any rate, to quote Marilyn Monroe, Happy birthday, Mr. President.
UPDATE (Greg Tinti): You can sign the RNC’s virtual birthday e-card here.