It’s not ageism to question whether Biden or Trump are too old to be president. It’s realism.


In a running dialogue with former journalism colleagues approaching our 70s or midway into them, we’ve been discussing the fairness and relevance of ageism in the debate about our presumptive next President. I’ll be 70 this year and feel great. But am I up to the physical challenges of a high-demand job like that?

When I was 40, I felt like I did in my 20s, 50 felt like my 30s and 60 was like my mid-40s. And now, it seems I’m where I am supposed to be chronologically. It seems wise, now that I am here, that 70 is a reasonable time to take a step back. This is not the time to take on some of the hardest jobs in our professions, or in the case of POTUS, in the world.

If we are being honest, we don’t want surgeons who are 77 operating on us or Uber drivers who are 81 picking us up for a ride, or 75-year-old pilots looking on from the cockpit as we board a flight. The stock market would operate a lot differently if companies had CEOs fighting to hold onto power into their late 70s and 80s. Warren Buffet and few other anomalies aside, financial markets might fall through the floor if that was happening more universally. Less than 1% of the top CEOs are 78 or older.

So, I don’t think this has anything to do with ageism when it comes to the 2024 presidential election. It’s realism.

I gave a commencement speech last year to a Colorado college in which I spoke about the challenges faced by the current generation and the need for elderly leaders to move on:

“The challenges of these times are existential: threats to our environment, other species, even the planet itself; we are not safe from gun violence in any public space; homelessness and drugs are destroying lives and communities across America; and prejudice, xenophobia, war, and inequality remain to be confronted. On top of that artificial intelligence is changing our sense of place in the world at warp speed.

It will take a lot of energy and work to meet these challenges. But first, and maybe most important, you will have to change our politics so that we can focus on solving these and other problems facing the American people. It is long past time for the GI Generation and the Baby Boomers to exit the stage so you can take your rightful place in the arena. You may have to nudge us aside. But everything springs from that.”


Fortunately, the folks holding on to power seem to realize that the time has come. Witness the decision by Mitch McConnell to walk away from Senate leadership after a historic reign and on the heels of embarrassing neurological lapses in recent months. He’s right: It’s time. Nancy Pelosi gave up the ghost two years ago when she announced that she would not seek reelection to party leadership: “The hour has come for a new generation to lead.” But this Congress is one of the oldest in history, and it should not take a death in office, like Dianne Feinstein at age 90, to open a Senate seat in California.

It is too late to affect the presidential election of 2024, but we need to build on the realism that age matters in our politics.

The easiest course would be to amend the Constitution that lays out the requirements to be President of the United States: The candidate must be 35 years of age or older, must be a natural born citizen of the United States, and must be a resident for 14 years. We could fix this issue by saying that to hold office, a candidate must be between 35 and 70. That would allow every president in history to be sworn in except for Joe Biden, who was 78 when he took the oath of office. Now we face a situation where either candidate, when elected, will be past this threshold.


We have retirement ages for just about every other job in this country. I don’t see why we don’t have one for the hardest, most powerful job in the world. There are other ways to remain relevant and influential that don’t require taking up space and refusing to make room for a new generation to help shape our shared future and find their way to greatness.

I keep going back to our first president, George Washington, who walked away from power to make room for new leadership. Had he not willingly returned to being a citizen, there might not have been an Adams, Jefferson or Madison and the list goes on. Our democracy thrives on new blood, and we have calcified because of the lack of it.

Ultimately, we must ask: how much longer are we willing to smother a new generation of leaders with the rut we are in? And it is happening at every level — local, state and federal. The biggest challenges often require fresh eyes to solve, and those who are most affected by the conditions of today should have a seat at the table to find solutions for tomorrow.

But the movement of some longtime players to the sidelines is a good thing that we all need to encourage. Twenty years seems enough for any one person in government, and if by then you have not done what you set out to do, move on and let someone else take a shot.

The key is to recognize we have a system that rewards politicians who stay in power long past their effectiveness. We can only hope to see a new day in American politics where returning to the role of citizen is not something to fear, but is embraced. And if it takes a little extra nudge to get us there, then so be it.