At 75 years of age, I am surely considered old. Does that mean I am senile? It does not. Does that mean that I can do a mere fraction of some of the physical things I used to do? It does. Heck, I ran a marathon, played full court basketball, and arose at 3:40 every morning to work-out and still be at my desk by 7:30. I couldn’t do any of that now, nor do I aspire to do so. If I can do my conditioning/boxing exercises, lift weights, do Pilates, and play golf, I am more than breaking even. That the Saturday New York Times crossword puzzle is still in my wheelhouse is an added bonus. I am quite comfortable with knowing that younger people know and do things I cannot. If I ever forget, my youngest son constantly reminds me that my technology capabilities are sorely taxed every time I sit down at a lap top to do more than type the blog. I get that. I’ve made the adjustments that come with aging. I don’t like adjusting, but I do it.
This issue of graceful aging has become a politically hot one as several key figures in our national politics are aging and are not doing so gracefully at all.
Let’s start with exhibit one, the current President of the United States. Joe Biden had one job to do in 2020. It was to beat Donald Trump. He did that. He should be congratulated for having done so and for having accomplished a couple of worthwhile things during his tenure—the infrastructure bill, keeping NATO strong in the face of the Russian onslaught, and not mishandling the economy too badly even as many Americans just don’t feel that he did enough. But the President has trouble speaking clearly. He falls down. He walks stiffly. He’s old. It would show some degree of grace if he would step aside, wave to a grateful nation, and stay out of politics for the rest of his life. But, no! One of the main reasons Biden cannot sweep to a conclusive victory in 2024 is that he does not appear up to the job.
Then there’s Diane Feinstein, the senior senator from California who, to be kind, is not really sure where she is most of the time and yet insists on serving out her term in the Senate. This is ridiculous. I don’t believe there ought to be age limits for service to the country, but when you really are incapacitated, step aside.
The latest aging legislator is Mitch McConnell who has now had two episodes where he dissociated from reality in front of a microphone. Then, the congressional doc (an oncologist) assures us that McConnell had neither a seizure nor a stroke. How can you know? If the MRI is now normal and there are no aberrant waves on the EEG, that doesn’t mean those episodes were just sequelae of his concussion. He too needs to step aside—McConnell and maybe the doc, too.
Now, contrast all of that with Donald Trump, now 77 years old. He’s obviously way overweight and not in any kind of shape, but he speaks clearly, walks normally, and is obstinate as ever. I’m no fan, but his physical age does not disqualify him from public service. No, Trump, of all of these folks, seems to be in the best shape. Now that’s a frightening statement, but I believe an accurate one.
I don’t believe in mandatory retirement age, but I do believe people’s performance at complex tasks both physical and mental does degenerate with time. Mr. Biden, Mr. McConnell, and Ms. Feinstein need to step aside and give someone else a chance and there ought to be a way for the Congress to force this to occur. Frankly, I don’t trust the oncologist with his neurologic assessment.
Dr. Kripke used to say that she left the party while she was still having fun. She left the CAO’s job at 64 and made major contributions to CPRIT later on. She knew when to step aside. She was and is most wise.
These aging politicians are doing no one any service least of all their own legacies. Lewis Black once said that Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction at the scandalous Super Bowl halftime was one that said of her “she has no friends.” These politicians must have friends. Their friends need to tell them it’s time to leave the party.
Obviously, Mitt Romney has friends.
Dr. Zwelling’s new novel, Conflict of Interest: Money Drives Medicine and People Die is available at:
on amazon if you search using the title and subtitle,
directly from the publisher Dorrance at: https://bookstore.dorrancepublishing.com/conflict-of-interest-money-drives-medicine-and-people-die-pb/m