Hillary's Age Ain't Nothing But a Number

Whatever happens and whoever gets nominated, the 2016 presidential campaign won't be decided on questions about age.

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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses the media during a press conference with Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, unseen, at the Foreign Ministry in Prague, Czech Republic, Monday, Dec. 3, 2012.

Republicans are attacking Hillary Clinton's age. Whatever.

As the pop singer Aaliyah might say, "Age ain't nothing but a number." 

During the 1980 presidential campaign, I paid more attention to Legos and Star Wars action figures than Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, but according to reporting from the time Democrats were elated that Reagan was the Republican nominee because they believed voters wouldn't vote for a nearly 70 year old actor. They were wrong.

On my first presidential campaign in 1992, Republicans attacked Bill Clinton's preparedness for office by questioning the state of Arkansas as a proper training ground for national office and the foreign policy inexperience of the youthful southern governor. It didn't work.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

In 2008 both the Hillary Clinton and John McCain camps tried to make Barack Obama's greenness in national office and naiveté about global affairs deciding factors in the campaign against him. It didn't work that time either.

Voters don't care about such things when picking a president. It is a leadership contest more about characteristics like strength, compassion, confidence, vision, reliability and empathy. The only age related trait to which Hillary Clinton partisans should pay attention is vigor.

At 73 years old in 1984 President Reagan's onscreen persona dripped in vigor, especially the night he flipped the age question to his advantage during a debate with former Vice President Walter Mondale. "I will not make age an issue of this campaign," Reagan said. "I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience."

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Will the Benghazi Attacks Tarnish Hillary Clinton's Legacy as Secretary of State?]

As a former congressional aide, corporate lawyer, first lady of Arkansas and the United States, U.S. senator and secretary of state, Hillary Clinton is the most experientially qualified person in the country to lead us; but presidential voters are in the market for happy warriors so the race can't be about duty, obligation or inevitability. She must use that experience as a validator of her commitment to the nation and evidence of her passion to tackle the challenges ahead. If Clinton is to run for president she has to project vitality and joy in her pursuit of the highest office.

The former secretary of state has another advantage over her 2008 race. The last time she ran, Clinton had trouble locking down female voters. While national elites were assured of Hillary Clinton's 2008 nomination victory, a conversation with a liberal makeup artist in Nashville, Tenn. who vehemently opposed the senator from New York was my canary in the coal mine that all was not well. Conversations with other liberal women, disgruntled with some of the old baggage and staff surrounding Clinton convinced me she had something of a woman problem. This time I don't detect any of that dissension. Women seem ready to elect one of their own to the White House and if Hillary Clinton wants it she has first dibs.

President Obama has gotten many things right as president, but he hasn't been perfect. He saved the economy, passed health care reform, started changing public education through Race-to-the-Top and made groundbreaking appointments to the Cabinet and Supreme Court. He got us out of the Iraq War and is navigating an end to the Afghanistan conflict while still putting down terrorists as the need arises. 

[Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.]

Looking ahead three years, which is always dangerous, the next president will have to show an even greater ability to get her way in the face of a recalcitrant Congress. Hillary Clinton's strength in the next campaign is just that: She is strong. She has weathered the storms and beaten back the critics. She has taken her lumps and kept serving America's interests. She is persistent and people believe she will crack a few heads to get the job done.

The problem for Democrats is that many Americans believe New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is cut from the same cloth. If Christie can make it through the GOP primaries without losing his own reputation for toughness, he might be pretty hard to beat.

Whatever happens and whoever gets nominated, the 2016 presidential campaign won't be decided on questions about age.

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