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Is 70 the new 50 for presidential contenders?

Biden stops in at The Cone Shoppe for

Biden stops in at The Cone Shoppe for an ice cream cone and to meet Iowa voters in Monticello on Tuesday. Credit: The Washington Post/Melina Mara

Septuagenarians rock?

A sizzling 76, former vice president, senator, and serial hugger Joe Biden is making his third run for the White House. His age will be an issue for some people. But why?

He’s a year younger than Bernie Sanders, who at 77 seems to get a pass because we are used to him as a presidential contender. President Donald Trump is 72. The titular leader of the Democratic Party, Nancy Pelosi, is 79.

Isn’t it weird that even though millennials have surpassed baby boomers as America’s largest cohort, the leaders of the presidential sweepstakes are well beyond what’s thought of as retirement age, itself a shaky concept?

The Gray Panthers was founded in 1970 by Philadelphian Maggie Kuhn when she was forced to retire from a job she loved because she hit the magic age of 65. She lost her job, but launched a movement.

Maggie said there were six myths about old age: “That it’s a disease, a disaster. That we are mindless. That we are sexless. That we are useless. That we are powerless. That we are all alike.”

She died in 1995 at 89, and since there is no Philadelphia chapter, I asked Jack Kupferman, 64, an attorney who leads New York City’s Gray Panthers, what Maggie might say about a candidate being too old.

“That’s nonsense, that’s just nonsense,” Jack imagines her saying. “The basic thing is understanding and experience. And the ability to get things done is essential.” Ideas are good or bad, not young or old.

For half my life, the big thinkers have described America as a youth culture that worships the young, new and unwrinkled. I found that cool when they were talking about me, less so now that I’ve aged out.

Does the appeal of septuagenarian candidates mean America has swapped youth culture for ancestor worship?

I doubt it. Sanders, Biden and Trump benefit from name recognition.

When I engage with online critics, the point of attack is my senior status, more than my race, religion, gender or political views. Almost without exception, this comes from the left. The same people who hyperventilate over racism, homophobia, misogyny, Islamophobia and transphobia are comfortable whipping out the club of ageism.

Does it bother me? Not really. Age brings a sort of serenity. They often think I don’t get it, whatever “it” is to them. I do know that I have been 25, and can remember what that feels like, but they are clueless about how and what you feel at 50.

My peeps grew up on rock and roll, we poured into college, we created prosperity while we fought the Cold War. Many of us were drafted to defend Europe or Vietnam. We know service.

While our minds may be fuzzy on some details, we have the maturity to understand how and why things work. There aren’t many surprises. But there are some — like health, which can go south quickly, even for those with apparent vigor. 

That’s why I’m certain that should either Biden or Sanders be the Democratic nominee, the vice presidential candidate will be at least one generation younger.

Stu Bykofsky is a columnist with The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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