I don’t know any more than anyone else about Hilary Clinton’s health status or Presidential plans. I strongly hope she runs, because I’m confident that she would clobber any Republican and less confident that any other Democrat would do so. I’m glad to have my views validated by no less an expert on Presidential politics than Karl Rove. [Whatever the truth or falsity of the reports about Rove’s sexual activity with underage goats, his expertise remains unmatched.]
One predictable and intended result of Rove’s low blow was to raise the age issue. Republicans, and reporters, who ignored the obvious signs of Ronald Reagan’s progressive dementia in the 1984 campaign.
(I remember vividly Reagan’s utterly confused closing in the first debate, and remember even more vividly the deafening silence from the political press corps and from Democrats that followed. Instead the buzz was about Reagan’s canned witticism on Mondale’s “youth and inexperience.” The Democrats suffer from a deficit of dirty players and subservient hacks, which on balance seems to me a good thing but can be costly at key moments.)
Charlie Cook of the National Journal – while making no reference to the the bestiality questions concerning Rove, which have as strong a factual basis as the brain-damage questions about Clinton – plays along with Rove’s nonsense by writing a beard-stroking column gravely pondering HRC’s age and her decision about whether to run. Topic sentence: “While Clinton’s age will be precisely the same as Ronald Reagan’s when he was first elected president, people in their late 60s do not make nine-year commitments lightly.”
Well, actually, no. Her calendar age will be the same as Reagan’s. But men – alas! – age faster than women. A quick glance at the mortality tables shows that a 69-year-old woman has the same annual mortality risk (1.49%) as a 64-year-old man. So in actuarial terms, Hilary Clinton in 2016 would be the age, not of Ronald Reagan in 1980, but of Mitt Romney in 2012. (Actually, adjusted for gender, she’d be a year younger than Romney was.) Did you hear anyone argue that Mitt was too old to be President? Me neither.
Of course age is a factor; other things equal, you’d rather have a younger president, because the job itself is so punishing. But let’s keep the relevant facts straight.
Update One commenter points out that the risk of reduced cognitive function might not follow the same gender pattern as the risk of mortality. Does anyone have actual data on this point? James Wimberley raises a different question: the extent to which predictions informed by measurements of individuals can trump aggregate statistics. Again, there’s an empirical question: if the Clinton campaign releases a “clean bill of health” medical report, how seriously should we take those findings?
Another commenter points out that Rove – who has never convincingly disproven the persistent rumors about his pedophilia – made the unsupported suggestion that HRC has brain damage without explicitly mentioning her age. As the post points out, it was Charlie Cook who, riffing off Rove, raised the age question. If you believe that Rove didn’t intend to raise the age question, let’s talk about investment opportunities in urban transportation infrastructure.