I’m so old I can remember when the age of a candidate was a grave national security concern … if he was Republican John McCain. Eleven years later, Politico’s medical experts assure us that the age-heavy field of Democratic candidates shouldn’t concern us at all. Now we can call them “superagers,” rather than just super-old:
Though Biden has had a longstanding reputation for verbal flubs, they’re now inextricably linked to the 76-year-old’s age.
But concerns about Biden’s age and mental fitness are likely overblown, according to experts on aging and the brain, as well as actuarial tables used by the insurance industry to estimate the health and longevity of customers. …
Biden isn’t the only candidate facing questions about age — five presidential candidates are 70 years or older, including 73-year-old Donald Trump — but there’s reason not to fret about the others, either.
The oldest candidate, Bernie Sanders, will turn 78 next month — eclipsing the average life expectancy for a man in the United States by two years. The youngest of the septuagenarian candidates is Elizabeth Warren, 70. Trump’s little-known Republican challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, is 74.
With the prospect that the next president may be the oldest ever to take office, a team of researchers with the American Federation for Aging Research released a study last month to answer this morbid question: How likely are they to die while in office?
The answer: Not very.
Marc Caputo plays this straight by including Trump (and Weld) among the category of “superagers.” And most likely, these experts are correct in that healthy adults in their 70s are more likely to continue being healthy for the next four years than not. No one’s using oxygen on stage, which would be an obvious red flag regardless of the age of the candidate who required it.
Still, the contrast between how this treats Biden’s medical history to how the larger media environment treated McCain’s is remarkable. The New York Times was the absolute worst in regard to this phenomenon, although hardly alone. Caputo notes that Biden has had two brain aneurysms that had to be corrected by brain surgery in the 1980s, but that he suffered no damage and isn’t at risk for more such aneurysms. Contrast that to how the NYT covered McCain’s skin cancer eight years prior to his presidential run:
Along with his signature bright white hair, the most striking aspects of Senator John McCain’s physical appearance are his puffy left cheek and the scar that runs down the back of his neck.
The marks are cosmetic reminders of the melanoma surgery he underwent in August 2000. Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, sometimes tells audiences that he has “more scars than Frankenstein.”
The operation was performed mainly to determine whether the melanoma, a potentially fatal form of skin cancer, had spread from his left temple to a key lymph node in his neck; a preliminary pathology test at the time showed that it had not.
But because such a test cannot be definitive, the surgeons, with Mr. McCain’s advance permission, removed the surrounding lymph nodes and part of the parotid gland, which produces saliva, in the same operation, which lasted five and a half hours.
By that time, McCain had a clean bill of health, but that didn’t stop the NYT from running a campaign to demand all of McCain’s health records. The paper threatened him with negative coverage until he have them his medical file, so great was the apparent threat to the public of the 71-year-old’s health. They then exploded in indignation when McCain released the information to a press pool that didn’t include a reporter from the NYT, but other outlets closed up the hyperventilation gap. In the McCain conference call for the records release, reporters peppered the campaign with pointed questions that included a ridiculous focus on a common diuretic that was prescribed for kidney stones.
The nonsensical focus on McCain’s skin cancer was, in short, a disgusting zoo — and one that emphasized the age difference between the two apparent nominees for the 2008 election. It’s tough to conclude that this was unintentional, especially given McCain’s very apparent health and vigor at the time. The media wanted to scare voters into thinking that McCain couldn’t hack it as a contrast to the equally vigorous but much younger Barack Obama.
Now that Democrats’ three leading candidates all fall into the septuagenarian class, can we expect to see a lot more in-depth media analysis about the virtues of “superagers” as a bonus rather than a threat to national security? You’d better believe it, and Politico might end up being the fairest among them, especially given the track record of the media’s reporting on Trump’s supposed mental issues over the last three years.