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Experience January/February 2024

The Golden Age of Presidents

Norm Tabler


  • Age isn’t just a number when you and the president are neck and neck in the “who’s younger?” competition.
The Golden Age of Presidents

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These days, there’s not a lot to celebrate in national politics. The country is more politically divided than at any time since Lee and Grant met at Appomattox Court House. And the heat and venom of political discourse are at an all-time high.

Yet for those of a certain age—say, the age of many Experience readers—there is something to celebrate in this year’s projected rematch between President Biden and former President Trump: It can help us feel young again, or at least a little less old.

I’ll lay my cards on the table: As someone who turns 80 this year, I’m accustomed to being the oldest guy in the room. I’m long past my law firm’s mandatory retirement age, reduced to retired partner status.

On the rare occasion when I participate in an online survey, as soon as I check the 65+ age box, I receive a curt Thank you for participating dismissal. Cashiers ring up the senior citizen discount before I ask for it.

Presidents: Older than dirt

I may be accustomed to being reminded that I’m old, but that doesn’t mean I like it. Each new reminder is a dart to my heart—OK, to my ego. One of those darts is being reminded that the president is younger than I am. Why? Because I grew up thinking of presidents as old, certainly a lot older than I was. I’ll bet you did, too.

When I was in third grade, Dwight Eisenhower was elected president. He remained in office into my junior year of high school. To a kid that age, Eisenhower personified old, qualifying by almost every conceivable measure.

He was already in his 60s when first elected. The little hair he had was white. As president, he even had the “massive” heart attack we associated with old men. Eminently likeable, he could have been sent by central casting to play kindly old gramps.

After Ike, I continued to view presidents as old. Kennedy, the youngest man ever elected president, was something of an aberration. But at only 16, I thought his 43 was pretty darn old. After JFK, presidents got back to being truly old: Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Bush 41.

Once again, older than I

Then it happened. The country elected a president younger than I was: Bill Clinton. And it proved not to be a one off. I was (and remain) older than the next three presidents after Clinton.

When John McCain was defeated in 2008, I assumed I could never again be younger than a president. But fate had a surprise in store for me. In 2020 both nominees were old again. True, at 73, Trump was younger than I, but by only three years. And, wonder of wonders, the winner, Biden, is actually older than I am!

As I write this, Biden and Trump are again the odds-on favorites to be nominated. They both fit the Eisenhower age model I grew up with. In fact, they’re older than Ike was—by a lot. Ike was inaugurated at age 62 and again at 66. Biden is already 80; Trump, 77.

That means many—probably most—Experience readers can take comfort in the knowledge that the president elected this year will be older than they are—the way things were meant to be. We can also smile at the irony that neither candidate could get a job at a company with a mandatory retirement age.

A whole new ball game

You’re thinking, Big deal; this is 2020 all over again. But in terms of age, it isn’t. Both candidates are four years older this time around. Either one would be in his 80s before leaving office. That means that even more of us have a realistic hope of again being younger than the president we elect. For many—perhaps most—of us, this is unlikely to ever happen again.

In short, this is a moment to savor. Most of us can walk (OK, maybe limp) into the voting booth and, whether Democrat or Republican, vote for a candidate older than we are. What’s more, irrespective of the outcome, the winner is guaranteed to be older than most of us.

Sure, I’ll still usually be the oldest guy in the room. Surveys still won’t care what I think. And cashiers will still press the senior discount key before I get to the counter. But at least I won’t be reminded several times a day that I’m a lot older than the president.

The man in the Oval Office will be old along with me. And there’s even a good chance he’ll be older than I am.

I don’t know about you, but personally, on election day I plan to show up early at the polls and raise my cane in salute to the fact that I live in a country where I won’t necessarily be older than the occupant of the White House.