Bernie Sanders and the Realities of Aging


Bernie Sanders seems to be recovering nicely from the installation of two stents on a major heart artery. I feel for you, bro, I had eight of those little buggers installed three years ago, a couple of weeks before I launched my new book. I was 81 years old that year, and I actually found myself with more energy than before the procedure. It does give you a boost to have your blood flowing evenly!

In my own case, as I celebrate my 84th birthday this month, it’s the simple process of aging that gives me concern—as it should concern Bernie, and voters. My heart is fine, but I need more rest, my memory is often lousy, and I ache in various places. A young man at the YMCA this week tenuously inquired if I was in my 70s! My pressures are not those of running the nation, however. 

Most medical procedures these days should not in themselves disqualify a candidate. I worry much more about aging in general.

My dear mother was just a year older than Ronald Reagan, and she declared emphatically that he was just too old. “Bad things happen to you when you reach our age,” mom declared, although in her case she lived to be 92, sharp as a tack to the end. Reagan did not; he left the White House with the early stages of Alzheimers disease. Close friends in Congress and the news media told me during his second term that he was not focused, tired easily, and relied on a capable staff to run the White House. 

President Trump would re-enter office in 2021 at age 74, the same age as Reagan. He is in worse physical shape than the Gipper, is going through an excruciating impeachment process and seems ready to begin foaming at the mouth in his anger and fear. His White House staff is filled with incompetent toadies. What could possibly go wrong?

If Sanders rests on the laurels from his long career and Joe Biden is forced to withdraw or slips in early primaries, Elizabeth Warren would be the only candidate over age 60. One cannot watch her in action without admiring both her physical strength and her mental acuity.  She would be 71 upon inauguration, and a huge improvement over either Trump or Reagan. Regardless of what you may think about her policies, she would approach them in the same competent and coherent way she is conducting her campaign.

Unless she has or will develop physical issues later, she certainly would be able to stand for re-election and serve a second term. Trump is term-limited and it’s hard to imagine Biden or Bernie running in 2024.

Age discrimination is the least-obvious and the trickiest in our society. But anyone past age 55 can tell you it exists. Presidential candidates of a certain age can hardly file for legal redress, but we all must look at the realities of aging, even in the 21st century with its miracle drugs and laser surgery. Bodies—and minds—do pay a price as we grow older.

At least that was what I thought I was going to say.

Image: Wikimedia

Floyd McKay
Floyd McKay
Floyd J. McKay, emeritus professor of journalism at Western Washington University, covered Pacific Northwest politics as a reporter and opinion writer for four decades, primarily in Oregon. He was commentator/news analyst at KGW-TV (King Broadcasting) from 1970 to 1987. Previously a print reporter, he returned to print and online reporting and commentary from 2004 to 2017 with the Seattle Times Op-ed page and He is the author of Reporting the Oregon Story: How Activists and Visionaries Transformed a State (Oregon State University Press, 2016). He lives in Bellingham.


  1. Thank you for an honest and thoughtful article, Floyd. Age discrimination is very real, most especially in the political world. I experienced both age and sex discrimination when I ran for Seattle City Council. Age discrimination is more subtle — younger opponents (most all of mine were male) pretend gallantry: open doors for you and offer you a hand. The sex discrimination comes when they talk over you and mansplain. Best way to combat was to make a joke. On occasion I’d say something like “I have jeans older than these guys.” I never batted away a helping hand but I tried to get through doors and up stairs ahead of them. Managed to win six of my elections (primary and general) but lost the last one. Now enjoying rich retirement sans those subtle putdowns.


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