Bernie Sanders' age should not disqualify him in 2020
As the frenzy of the midterm elections come to a close this November, all eyes are setting on the 2020 presidential race. The candidate’s backgrounds — political affiliation, foreign policy experience, race, gender, age, and so on — will be front and center.
Unfortunately, critics are already disqualifying Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOn The Money: Yellen touts 'whole-of-economy' plan to fight climate change | Senate GOP adopts symbolic earmark ban, digs in on debt limit GOP lawmaker demands review over FBI saying baseball shooting was 'suicide by cop' House Dems to unveil drug pricing measure ahead of Biden package MORE (I-Vt.) simply based on his age. Sanders would be 79 come inauguration day in 2021. But as some Latinx elders would say, "estoy viejo pero con vida". It means, "I may be old but I am full of energy and wisdom."
As the head of state, chief executive of the federal government, and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, the most important qualification of any president should be moral leadership — not his or her age.
History lends examples of incredible leaders well into their 70s, 80s, and even 90s who possessed the commitment and inextinguishable energy to fight for human rights and liberty.
Nelson Mandela was 77 when he was inaugurated as South Africa's first black president where he continued the effort to end the country’s apartheid system of racial segregation.
Before being assassinated at age 78, Mohandas Gandhi was tirelessly traveling across the world advocating for India’s independence and civil rights.
Harriet Tubman was firmly committed to the abolitionist movement until she died at age 98.
Despite aspersions against his age, Sanders is strong as an ox. According to his medical records, Sanders is in “very good health" and, unlike many Americans (specially city dwellers), the senator even chops wood as a work out.
Moreover, Sanders' age is not a liability — it’s an asset that represents vast experience, which has inspired a bold vision for the nation. Indeed, recent polls reveal overwhelming support for Sanders’ trademark policies, including “Medicare-for-All” and tuition-free college.
Some critics also back their attack against Sanders’ age by pointing to an artificial crisis: a septuagenarian President Sanders would be vulnerable to illness or death. An incapacitated president? Hardly a shocking scenario that our Constitution does not already address.
Under the 25th amendment, the vice president is the direct successor of the president and will serve permanently or temporarily if the president cannot serve for whatever reason.
Federal law also establishes a continuing line of succession in case the vice president is unable to serve; this includes the Speaker of the House and president pro tempore of the Senate.
If a tragedy renders the congressional replacements incapable or unwilling to serve, the line of succession then proceeds to the cabinet members starting with the secretary of State .
All successors must be constitutionally eligible — at least 35 years old, a “natural born citizen,” and been a resident within the United States for 14 years.
Most importantly, Sanders’ age puts the spotlight on the nation’s shameful view that our elders are somehow ineffective and unemployable. We need to change this and we can learn a thing or two from other cultures.
Though the average life expectancy in ancient Rome was around 25, some individuals did live into their 70s, and they were generally respected for their wisdom. In fact, the word “Senate” and “senator” comes from the Latin word senex meaning “the elder” denoting an assembly of wise elders.
Latinos are deeply family oriented and more likely to care for their elderly family members, rather than casting them away in nursing homes. Similarly, Greek culture honors and celebrates old age. Respect for elders is central to the family.
As Americans, we should not be looking at how many gray hairs a candidate has. Instead, we should be focusing on their commitment to ending income inequality, ensuring health care for all, and creating opportunities for all Americans.
Today, the oval office is in dire need of an occupant that possesses wisdom and integrity. Sanders, “el viejito,” has such qualifications and has earned the right to compete in the most critical election this nation will face in its history.
Cesar Vargas and Yesenia Mata are directors of the Dream Action Coalition and were advisers to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign.