I'm the same age as Elizabeth Warren. We 70-somethings have no business being president.
Next month, presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren and I will both turn 70. Warren will be the fourth septuagenarian officially in the race, joining Joe Biden (76), Bernie Sanders (77) and Donald Trump, who turns 73 on June 14. Personally, I am amazed to have chronologically made it this far. Those candidates and I were all born during the 1940s, which means we went though the 1980s as young adults.
That fact alone should disqualify all of us from running for president.
The '80s were exhilarating and then exhausting. As my crowd was coming of age and into positions of leadership, we had nearly limitless possibilities to define and achieve success. The war in Vietnam was over. We were allowed to take risks. We were unsupervised and unchecked, our privacy protected by analog obscurity. Boomers and our Warholian older brothers and sisters, were posing, positioning and philandering. We had loads of time to land on our feet and reinvent ourselves. Love was free. Cocaine was ubiquitous. Decadence had no consequences. We had only begun to hear about a blood disease that was affecting gay men.
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I cast no aspersions on the emerging elderly for their youthful transgressions. My generation of geezers, through no fault of our own, lived our lives during the great social experiment that was the second half of the 20th century.
Growing up in the analogue era
In my 20s, I made countless poor choices that regularly led to spectacular failures (for example, in 1970, I moved to a beach in Sinaloa, Mexico, instead of going to college). As buffer to my habit of making impulsive decisions, I was absurdly lucky. I survived to my 30s and, by 1978, landed in post-Watergate Washington, D.C., with a grown-up career.
President Richard Nixon had resigned, and both the American government and I were getting a new start.
It turned out the times were an imperfect proving ground for noble intentions. The Reagan years were culturally flat, but politically stable and economically opportune. To quote Tom Petty, for the ambitious and energetic, "the sky was the limit."
Fast-forward to 2019. The past didn’t go anywhere. Archival time capsules are everywhere, and they highlight our midcentury midlife decision-making — when we were developing character.
While not everyone’s history is as colorful as these senior citizen contenders for 2020, for today’s spry 70-somethings, it can be terribly uncomfortable that our hard copy records have been transcribed, digitized, cataloged and made keyword-searchable. Seemingly anyone can unearth acts and interpret motivations of our younger selves and upload them to the internet.
Back while I was learning about politics in Washington, D.C., in Burlington, Vermont Sanders was fulfilling his civic duty as mayor. Coincidentally, both of us wrote down our interior thoughts on yellow legal pads. Mine are safely in my office closet stacked in a box full of self-recriminating scolds and personal pep talks in my handwriting about my work (challenging), friendships (mostly transactional) or parenting skills (lacking).
Awkwardly, Mayor Sanders’ similarly toned, excruciatingly personal midlife existential doubts ended up among his official mayoral records sent to storage at the University of Vermont after he left office, along with, Mother Jones reports, “bank statements, an overdue gas bill, and a letter from an acquaintance asking Sanders to pay back $250 he had borrowed seven years earlier.”
This month, more than three decades later, the now three-term senator and eight-term congressman’s humanizing but hardly helpful notes-to-self ended up published. Mother Jones reported that the frustrated municipal chief, approaching middle age, complained to himself that he was losing his radical touch and maintaining a socialist “vision is extremely difficult when one is confronted on every corner with the … suffocating force of the status quo.”
Business values of the 1980s
While Sanders was stewing over the meaning of his life in the mid-1980s, 300 miles south, Trump, a self-styled mogul and beneficiary of the equivalent of $4.5 million a year from his father’s clever generosity, was on a debt-fueled spending spree to build his own real estate and gambling empire in New York and Atlantic City.
Any interior thoughts during the mid-80s that media darling Donald Trump might have had have so far been shielded from snoopy reporters (and congresspersons) by nondisclosure agreements, sealed lawsuits and, perhaps, his early passion for “getting even.”
Some light has recently been shed, however, on his business acumen. The New York Times obtained printouts from his official IRS tax transcripts, from 1985 through 1994. The Times calculated that Trump claimed $1.17 billion in losses for the period. Claiming these losses allowed Trump to avoid paying income tax for eight of the 10 years.
In response to this public peek into his early approach to playing the system, the 72-year-old first-term president said real estate developers were “entitled to massive write-offs," and "you always wanted to show losses for tax purposes." Apparently, loading up on loopholes was a common “sport” among real estate developers.
Thanks to my generation’s harrowing histories, our compromised conditions and our diminished drive, the field of members competent to sit in the Oval Office has narrowed. That’s as it should be. We are admittedly not as fresh as we once were.
The future might rest on electing a sufficiently “woke” candidate who can connect with a gender-fluid generation, plus set a deadline to save the planet and also develop policies to protect Americans from violence.
Boomers and the truly elderly added much to the culture of our era, but in these troubled times it seems right to me that we elect a candidate who will make appropriate choices for his or her contemporaries, and the ones who will follow. As I blow out my many birthday candles, I’ll wish for an election that features fresh ideas.
For the long term, maybe we should consider an age limit to bookend the constitutional provision making 35 years old the minimum threshold for presidential authority. A reasonable maximum might be 70 (or possibly 75 to accommodate the many geezers who would want to be grandfathered in).
Bonnie Goldstein, a former U.S. Senate investigator and network TV producer, is a writer in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter @kickedbyanangel.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: I'm the same age as Elizabeth Warren. We 70-somethings have no business being president.