As a man of, as they say, a “certain age” (okay, 75), I should be disqualified from answering the question “How old is too old to be president?” Just because I published a novel this month doesn’t mean I’m still compos mentis. I could have written the book twenty years ago and had one of my grandchildren upload it for me, right? (Actually, I was considering uploading one I wrote in college until I reread it.)
Of course, the idea of Joe Biden writing a novel at any age is fairly humorous, unless he plagiarized it. (As someone who has trouble remembering what state he’s in he’d have particular difficulty with the mystery genre. Keeping your own plot straight, I can tell him from personal experience, isn’t always easy.) I doubt those septuagenarians Donald Trump and Elizabeth Warren would be great rivals for Raymond Chandler or Agatha Christie either, not even for Mickey Spillane.
Trump, however, does have a good sense of humor, obviously of value to a novelist, although, to be honest, I have not read The Art of the Deal. Yes, I know that’s non-fiction, but I doubt he wrote much of that either himself, just as the amount JFK wrote of Profiles in Courage or Obama wrote of Dreams of My Father is up for grabs. Writing is boring, painstaking work and if you can find someone to do it for you, all the better. Politicians have been doing that for years. As Dorothy Parker famously put it, “It’s lousy to write, but great to have written.”
But all this begs the question: “how old is too old to be president?” According to Vanity Fair, when Jimmy Carter, about to turn 95, was asked at a recent event at the Carter Center if he would consider running again — he only served one term, although it felt longer to some of us — the ex-president gave a definitive no, acknowledging he could hardly walk, and said we should set a limit at 80.
That sounds about right, at least for now before we are all cyborgs. The behavior of Biden, who would already be months into his 79th year on Inauguration Day, should more than ratify that conclusion. I’m not going to go through a full litany of his gaffes and use the “s”-word (it has six letters and ends in e) because we have all seen this for ourselves. To name just one, when you tell people to listen to a now-defunct device (record player) more than a third of the country is likely too young to have seen outside Turner Classics, you have passed your sell-by date.
No, he wasn’t tyring to be hip and go back to vinyl. Joe Biden should have retired a while ago. He’s running for president for no discernible reason other than habit, in his case a bad one, like smoking. It could kill him.
We all age at different rates and, unfortunately, only some of this is within our control. I have been on a tennis court with people younger than I, in seemingly perfect shape, and seen them double over to be whisked away to the cardiac unit never to return. (Some of that inspired my new novel.)
Years ago, when I was a young writer, my mentor was Ken Millar (known by his pen name Ross Macdonald). In awe of his literary genius and his physical stamina — he would swim two miles in the Pacific 365 days a year — I would join him monthly at a small writers’ lunch in Santa Barbara. This went on for several years but somewhere in the mid-to-late seventies he suddenly ceased to recognize me — or anybody else. He was not yet sixty and had Alzheimer’s. He died several years after that, not seeing anyone. If this could happen to someone as brilliant as Ken — I would estimate his IQ to be 30 points or more above Biden’s and, yes, above Trump’s as well — it could happen to anybody.
But right now we are at a strange moment. The only political candidates who seem to have a shot at the presidency are those septuagenarians — Biden, Sanders, Warren, and, of course, Trump. Of those four, three are in pretty decent shape for their age, but Biden is clearly not. Nevertheless, they are all facing a physical gauntlet. Who will pass and go on to win? If it is Sanders or Warren, it will be the end of this great country as we know it. I know that sounds apocalyptic, but I think it’s true. So let’s pray for Trump to keep going, no matter his habits. I seem to do okay on Big Macs too, as long as I restrict myself to one or two a week and hit the gym regularly. I don’t know about Donald on either of those scores.
APROPOS OF LOVING AMERICA: I have been watching Ken Burns’ new country music multi-part documentary running now on PBS. Nothing short of spectacular. Do not miss it.