Suppose you’re nearing the end of a distinguished career in your field, and you see this job posting:
“CEO/COO wanted to head multi-trillion dollar nonprofit organization.No relevant experience required, but successful candidates must engage in a Survivor–style, two-year trial by fire. You will have to raise and spend approximately $500 million to become one of two finalists for the position. More than 100 million stakeholders will be polled to determine the successful candidate.
“If selected, you must agree to abide by the terms of the four-year contract, which cannot be altered. You will report to two separate boards, one with 100 members and the other with 435. In all likelihood, a majority of either or both boards will oppose most of your actions and initiatives.
“Salary: $400,000, with a $50,000 expense allowance. No stock options. The organization will provide health benefits, well-maintained public housing, transportation, 24-hour security, event hosting and dedicated staff.
“It is often characterized as the most stressful job in the world. Applicants must be in excellent health, able to work 12-15 hours a day without any days off. You will be personally responsible for preserving, protecting and defending the Constitution of the United States. You will be the 45th person to hold this office. Four of your predecessors were assassinated while in office, four more died of natural causes and 14 survived attempted assassinations.”
President of the United States.
It’s a tough, unpleasant and demanding job, one that takes a visible toll on those who hold it. Look at photos of Barack Obama eight years ago and today. He’s weary, weathered and watchful, his face the map of a thousand battlefields.
This is no job for the elderly, which is why we’ve usually chosen vigorous men between 43 and 62 to lead the nation. Only William Henry Harrison (who died a month after his inauguration), James Buchanan and Ronald Reagan were older than 62 when first elected. Only Reagan (77) and Dwight Eisenhower (70) were older than 70 when they left office.
On Election Day, Hillary Clinton will be 69; Donald Trump will be 70 and Bernie Sanders will be 75. Should we be worried? Yes.
Aging Baby Boomers (Trump and Clinton) as well pre-Pearl Harbor babies (Sanders) like to think that they’ll be forever young, as in “60 is the new 40.” But time is remorseless and age-related changes in cognition are inevitable.
It used to be said, “If you can’t remember where you left your keys, that’s normal — but if you find the keys and can’t remember what they’re for, you have a problem.” That’s age-related dementia, but other more subtle cognitive deficits are common after 65.
Age-associated memory impairments may affect multiple brain functions, including episodic memory, semantic memory and short-term memory.
Consider a type of episodic memory known as source information, the ability to remember source and context and to refresh and reconsider ideas. As a 75-year-old, I recognize it when Sanders and Trump spout ancient slogans and tired factoids. Free health care and college? Thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheering as the Twin Towers fall? It’s easy to let your mind travel in familiar ruts, re-examine nothing and the facts be damned. There’s a difference between cynical posturing on the campaign trail (e.g., anything Ted Cruz says) and sincere ignorance (Ben Carson).
We know we’ll have at least one geezer candidate and maybe two, if Trump gets the Republican nomination or runs as a defiant independent.
I don’t know which is more dismaying — the geezer takeover of the Democratic race or the geezer/lunatic takeover of the GOP contest. Trump? Cruz? The mind reels.
In less crazy times, John Kasich and Marco Rubio would be comfortably ahead of the field, while Hillary would again be plagued by a smart, articulate and utterly credible 40-something Democratic rising star.
We’re stuck with geezers — so how can we help?
In a 2003 article for Outside magazine, middle-aged recreational cyclist Stuart Stevens described his experience with a doctor-prescribed regimen of performance-enhancing drugs. Low doses of erythropoietin, human growth hormone, testosterone and Deca (an anabolic steroid) led to supercharged biking, reduced body fat, better eyesight and increased endurance — just what an aging POTUS might need.
Stevens quit taking PEDs after completing the 761-mile Paris-Brest-Paris ride in 91 hours. He went on to become Mitt Romney’s senior campaign strategist in 2012 and is now a Washington lobbyist.
Donald, Hillary, Bernie — he’s there if you need him.