Sunday, June 29, 2008

Is Art Morris whistling past the grave yard?

The estimable Art Morris, Sunday News’ guest op-ed writer, in a column headed "Sen. McCain is fit for the future" opines "As we each of us makes a choice for president, I hope we do it based on issues and not on age, race or other baseless reasons."

Certainly Morris does not mean for us to set aside the United State Constitution! It sets a minimum age for Representatives of 25, for Senators of 30, and for Presidents of 35. To our founding fathers, age was an important consideration.

It is one thing for a septuagenarian to serve in the House or Senate in a legislative and oversight capacity and as one of many. A famous example of this was former President John Quincy Adams who served in the House of Representatives until age 81 and distinguished himself by repeatedly (and bravely) speaking out against the institution of slavery.

Morris equally errs by too narrowly defining the tasks of a CEO or President as follows: "A president is not a doer. The president, after listening to the best advice available, makes decisions and tells people what to do."

If only it were so simple, we could all successfully serve in that capacity. Rather, the presidency is perhaps the biggest chief executive officer job in the world and requires not only huge energy to perform iits myriad of responsibilities including a grueling daily schedule and much travel, but also the ability to think clearly and, in part, rely upon one’s own judgment. As Abraham Lincoln once indirectly observed, there is only one vote that really counts at a cabinet meeting.

Lastly, Morris is at that magic point in his life (late fifties or early sixties?) where energy remains in abundance and what slippage may take place in acuity is more than off set by experience and contacts. But the next decade brings diminution of memory, changing temperament, less patience, and flagging vigor. (If only there was Viagra for thinking!)

Let’s look at the ages at the time of their ascension to office of those by consensus considered the most successful presidents: George Washington, 57; John Adams, 61, Thomas Jefferson, 57; Abraham Lincoln, 52; Theodore Roosevelt, 42; Woodrow Wilson, 56; Franklin Roosevelt, 51; Harry Truman, 60; Dwight Eisenhower, 62.

The oldest presidents at ascension were Andrew Jackson, 61; William Harrison, 68 (he died the first month); Zachary Taylor, 64 (he died 15 months later); James Buchanan, 65; and Ronald Reagan, 69.

For some, Reagan is the strongest argument that McCain, who would be 72 upon ascension, is not too old. Others point out that Reagan was already suffering from early signs of dementia during his second term.

Contrary to what Morris contends, age, unlike religion, race, and ethnicity, is a legitimate issue for consideration in choosing the next president of the United States.