Apart from discussions of the fact that gerontocracies – societies governed by older people – are typically not representative of their population, there are other concerns.
One key focus is mental fitness. Neuroscience and psychology suggest that cognitive performance varies widely as people grow older, making it tricky to determine whether someone can be too old to lead. And while some skills tend to decline with age, others improve. Some "super agers" even possess the mental acuity of people many decades younger than themselves. So, how old is "too old" to lead – or is this the wrong question?
Medical, political experts say concerns about physical, cognitive health of presidential candidates germane but evaluation complex, can’t be done from TV appearances.
Biden, now 80 years old, is the first octogenarian to occupy the Oval Office – and his main rival, former President Donald Trump, is 77. A Monmouth University poll taken in October showed that roughly three-quarters of voters think Biden is too old for office, and nearly half of voters think Trump is too old to serve.
Republicans Mitch McConnell and Steve Scalise join others in increased scrutiny over recent health issues.
And voters will probably keep electing them.
It’s easy to forget how much our politics have been shaped by the vagaries of human health.
In the former Soviet Union, obese governments are seen as more corrupt.
Dr. Brian P. Monahan has been thrust into the center of a political controversy as Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, seeks to dismiss concerns about his age and health.
Should elderly politicians, including candidates for President, undergo mandatory cognitive testing? Gov. Nikki Haley, who’s in her prime at age 51, is riding this feral hobby horse again, with former President Trump, 77, along for the jaunt. “I’m all for the test,” Mr. Trump said this weekend. It’s an attention-getting idea but fundamentally a political gimmick. The polling indicates Americans know the truth, which is that the country would be better off with younger nominees from both parties.
I would say that most physicians ethically also try to be candid with the public to the degree they can. So there's a difference between lying overtly and omitting information.
Medical professionals put their reputation on the line when they publicly reveal diagnostic information about a patient. But it isn’t unprecedented for a politician’s doctor to paint an overly rosy picture of a patient’s health. Historically, numerous doctors have knowingly misled or even lied to the public when it came to their powerful patients.
The long workdays, the constant pressure, and the knowledge that one wrong word could cost you your job can all make Congress a less-than-ideal workplace for mental health. Though there is no reliable way to estimate how many members have had their own experiences, 2021 data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration indicates that 22.8% of American adults experienced mental illness that year.
Washington’s aging leaders face scrutiny about their fitness for office.
It may be time to consider a political candidate’s health – their literal, physical fitness for the office – to be fair game for campaign disclosure. Asking politicians whether they have the ability to serve in office should not be off-limits, nor considered evidence of “ableism.”
Two troubling moments involving Senators Dianne Feinstein and Mitch McConnell thrust questions about aging in office out of Congress and into the national conversation.
Frost, though, says he’s concerned cognitive testing would be a “slippery slope” that could be weaponized or politicized. He favors term limits to ensure Congress has more of a “revolving door.”
The question to ask is this: “Does the person have the cognitive skills needed to do the job or task in question?” Otherwise there is an assumption that simply by reaching a certain age, people become less capable, and that is not necessarily true.
We should address these matters without rancor or cruelty, but also without euphemism or undue reticence. These matters are hard to talk about in American politics because they are hard to talk about in our own lives. I see my mortality etched on my father’s face, as my daughters see it in mine. Mortality and bodily fragility are two great constants of human life. How we handle those constraints provides a small but important test of American democracy.
With the top contenders for the US presidential election in 2024 both well past the typical retirement age, debate is raging over the trade-offs of being led by older politicians.