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For presidential candidates, when is ‘time on their side’?

REUTERS/Carlos Barria
When Vice President Joe Biden said he would not run for president he spoke of time not being on his side.

Not long ago, a boyfriend from more than many moons ago found me on Twitter. After getting beyond short formalities and into a lengthy phone conversation, he asked me why we never stayed together. I did not want to scoop up any more old muck so I said, well, I don’t know. He said he thought it was a matter of both of us being too ambitious for the world’s other attractions, adding that “you know we were too young for all that responsibility. Time was nowhere near on our side.”

Mary Stanik

I thought about this conversation when Vice President Joe Biden said he would not run for president. Of course, the major reason Biden gave for staying out of the race was the fact that he and his family are still wending their way through the process of mourning his son, a process that never comes with a firm expiration date. And that he would not run unless he could win and then do the best job possible. He spoke of time not being on his side.

Time is indeed one of those often quite maddening universal factors. It’s something some of us have too much of, something most of us don’t have enough of, and something that when lost is, to quote Benjamin Franklin “never found again.” Biden did not specifically discuss his near 73 years when he made his announcement, but plenty of pundits have talked a whole lot about the idea that he might be too old to serve as president and that his time for ruling well in the White House had come and gone. Many of these pundits have said the same things about 74-year-old Bernie Sanders, 69-year-old Donald Trump and 68-year-old Hillary Clinton. They note that if Clinton wins the election and is sworn into office on Jan. 20, 2017, she would be only eight months younger than Ronald Reagan was when he became president in 1981.

On the young side: Trudeau and Rubio

Of course, arguments about being too young to do something important are almost as common. Lots of commentators and politicians said Jack Kennedy, who was 43 when he was elected in 1960, was much too young to be president. They wanted him to bide his time, with some hoping the years also might ravage his bounteous, boyish hair. The opponents of Justin Trudeau, the man who became Canada’s prime minister on Nov. 4, were rabid in their criticism of Trudeau’s sculpted movie-star looks and his 43 supposedly inexperienced years. Some say the 44-year-old Marco Rubio (three years younger than Barack Obama was when he was elected president in 2008) ought to wait a spell and let time extract its maturation toll.

We all know the American presidency is one of the fastest aging methods available, one that has inflicted mighty gray lashes upon even highly fitness conscious presidents such as Obama and George W. Bush. But we also know that thanks to today’s somewhat (somewhat) more age-accepting culture, coupled with the implementation of our most advanced medical knowledge and technology, 2015’s 70-year-old can be a much more mentally and physically youthful specimen than a 50-year-old might have been in 1915 or even 1965. And despite this knowledge and technology, there also are scads of people in their 40s and 50s who make some 70-year-olds seem like champion Olympic triathletes who also can win big on “Jeopardy.”

Those other factors

The thing is, readiness to take on a lofty job such as the presidency ought to depend on a great deal more than age. There are people of all sorts of ages who may have résumés loaded with vaunted university credentials and years of solid elective office and/or executive level private sector experience but have personal lives and financial conditions that might visibly shock at least a few of the Kardashians. Not to speak of Iowa voters. There are people with “clean” personal and financial lives who couldn’t negotiate a trash removal contract, much less a treaty with a foreign power. Is time on their side? One might want to ask their banker or their lawyer. Or their children and former spouses.

Time will certainly tell if Joe Biden made the correct decision in deciding the time was not right for him to run. It also will tell if Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Marco Rubio or any of the other candidates are running for president at the best times in their lives and in the life of this nation. Or, to put it another way, as Leonardo da Vinci once noted: “Time stays long enough for anyone who will use it.”

Think of that when you next receive an unexpected Twitter message. Or have to decide whether to run for president.

Mary Stanik, a writer and public-relations professional, lives in St. Paul. She is the author of the novel “Life Erupted.” 

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