Karl Rove drew considerable heat when he allegedly said Hillary Clinton had sustained brain damage during a fall late in 2012 during a panel discussion last week. The GOP strategist also called Hillary’s age into question. Rove said, “My head tells me she runs, my gut tells me this is a more complicated calculation and she might not. Two weeks before the 2016 election, she’ll turn 69. If she were to serve two terms, she’d be 77.” (1)
Considering that Rove is only four years younger than Clinton, I’m not sure if he is in a position to deliver that message. However, the considerably younger RNC Chairman Reince Priebus (who is 42) concurred with Rove’s assessment during an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press. Priebus stated, “I think that health and age is fair game. It was fair game for Ronald Reagan. It was fair game for John McCain.”
Indeed in September 2008, the Obama campaign made light of McCain’s age when it put out an ad saying he “doesn’t know how to use a computer, can’t send an e-mail.” The ad was produced after McCain experienced a rise in the polls following the Republican National Convention and his selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate. This outraged Republicans who pointed out McCain couldn’t use a computer because of the injuries he sustained as a POW. Chief among those who rushed to McCain’s defense was none other than Karl Rove. Making McCain’s age an issue backfired on the Obama campaign. It was only when the financial markets collapsed a few days later that Obama’s fortunes would turn in his favor.
Making an issue of Ronald Reagan’s age didn’t exactly do wonders for Democrats in 1980 and 1984 when the Gipper was 69 and 73, respectively. The only hiccup of Reagan’s re-election campaign occurred when Reagan had a lackluster performance in his first debate with Democratic nominee Walter Mondale on October 7, 1984. In the days following the debate, Reagan’s age suddenly became an issue in the campaign. As James Reston noted in the New York Times on October 10, 1984:
In the wake of the Reagan-Mondale debate, the leading front-page story in The Wall Street Journal, no enemy of the President, dealt on Tuesday with the question of President Reagan’s age.
The headline read: “Fitness Issue — New Question in Race: Is Oldest U.S. President Now Showing His Age? Reagan Debate Performance Invites Open Speculation on His Ability to Serve.” David S. Broder also observed in The Washington Post that Mr. Reagan’s performance in Louisville “let the age issue emerge as it had not done in any of his previous campaigns.”
However, 11 days later, Ronald Reagan put the age issue to bed in his second debate with Mondale in response to a question posed by Henry Trewhitt of the Baltimore Sun. We all know Reagan’s response, but it bears repeating:
I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent’s youth and inexperience.
Not only did the audience laugh, so did Mondale. Reagan never looked back.
All of which makes me think of LeRoy “Satchel” Paige, the legendary Negro League pitcher who finally made the big leagues in 1948 with the Cleveland Indians at the age of 42. Or perhaps he was 43, maybe 46 and possibly 48. However old he was, Satchel sagely stated, “Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” Well, in 1984, Americans in 49 out of 50 states didn’t mind and thus Ronald Reagan’s age didn’t matter.
OK, Hillary Clinton is no Ronald Reagan. But there is another dimension to consider when broaching the question of age: the fairer sex. One would be hard pressed to find a more potent mix than women and age. To put it bluntly, it just isn’t a good idea for a man to bring up a woman’s age. It is difficult enough for the GOP to attract female voters. Engaging in this kind of talk will only keep women away from Republicans.
When it comes to Hillary Clinton, it isn’t a question of age, but of wisdom. Age and wisdom are not always companions. Some people are wise beyond their years. Marco Rubio, Mike Lee and Paul Ryan come to mind among Republicans. Some people never acquire wisdom. You could put former President Jimmy Carter, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Hillary Clinton into this category.
I put Hillary into this category because her own spokesperson at the State Department could not list a single accomplishment during her tenure as Secretary of State. Hillary’s legacy in the Obama Administration can be summed up by Benghazi, berating Benjamin Netanyahu, and bungling the Russian re-set.
Hillary Clinton should not be judged by how old she is, but by what she has done with her time.