While political commentary has emphasized the septuagenarian status of leading presidential candidates, it has done so in a troubling way. Rather than worry that Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, or Joe Biden may be the oldest person to become president, we should celebrate that fact. It’s a wonderful reflection of advances in health that people can continue to serve our country for longer periods of time. Moreover, focusing on candidate age reinforces society’s unhealthy biases against our elder citizens. Ageist views are widespread and cause serious harm.

When one looks carefully at the question of age, it turns out that the arguments are mostly misguided. For example, some suggest that we need a new generation of leaders to take us in a different direction, a “fresh start,” according to Pete Buttigieg. In fact, there is no connection between candidate age and candidate desire for a new direction. The candidates who want to change things the most include Sanders and Warren in their 70’s and Andrew Yang in his 40’s. The candidates whose proposals are more incremental and conventional include Biden in his 70’s, Amy Klobuchar in her 50’s, and Buttigieg in his 30’s. Among young voters, the most popular candidate is the oldest candidate, Sanders, precisely because of his proposals for major change.

Concerns about candidate age also neglect the many advantages that older leaders bring. Stepping into the Oval Office comes with a very steep learning curve. Better to have a president with the judgment and wisdom that comes with experience. It is for good reason that we speak of the folly of youth.

Of course, we need to ensure that presidential candidates are healthy enough to serve. And the evidence provides reassurance for all of the Democratic contenders. The persistent focus on candidate age has been far more pernicious than helpful.

Photo of David Orentlicher David Orentlicher

David Orentlicher is the Cobeaga Law Firm Professor of Law at UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law. Nationally recognized for his expertise in constitutional law and health law, Dr. O has testified before Congress, had his scholarship cited by the U.S. Supreme…

David Orentlicher is the Cobeaga Law Firm Professor of Law at UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law. Nationally recognized for his expertise in constitutional law and health law, Dr. O has testified before Congress, had his scholarship cited by the U.S. Supreme Court, and has served on many national, state, and local commissions.

A graduate of Harvard Medical School and Harvard Law School, Dr. O is author of numerous books, articles, and essays on a wide range of topics, including presidential power, affirmative action, health care reform, physician aid in dying, and reproductive decisions. Dr. O’s work has appeared in leading professional journals, as well as in the New York TimesTimeUSA TodayCNN Opinion, the Chicago Tribune, and other major newspapers.

Between 2002 and 2008, Dr. O served in the Indiana House of Representatives, where he authored legislation to promote job creation, protect children from abuse and neglect, and make health care coverage more affordable. His most recent book, Two Presidents Are Better Than One: The Case for a Bipartisan Executive, draws on his experience with partisan conflict as an elected official and his expertise in constitutional law to discuss reforms that would address the country’s high levels of political polarization.