Activists for older people say they’re fed up with all the talk about whether some of the 2020 presidential candidates are too old for the White House, after Joe Biden, 77, told voters who are concerned he’s too old to be president to just not vote for him.
Biden’s remark was the latest mention of age in a primary race that features three frontrunners in their seventies. On Saturday, pop star Lizzo told her more than 700,000 followers to “drop the ageism shit” in reference to concerns about Sanders’ age. And in a June Democratic primary debate, then-candidate Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) urged Sanders and Biden to “pass the torch.”
Jack Kupferman runs Gray Panthers, an anti-ageism group modeled on the Black Panthers, but for older people. Kupferman said he’s sick of hearing concerns that the those age of Biden, 77-year-old Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), 70-year-old Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) or 73-year-old Donald Trump aren’t up for the demands of the presidency.
“Swalwell’s statement was ageist,” Kupferman said. “This whole thing on old-versus-new leadership—it’s tired. This is 2019.”
Spokespeople for the Biden, Sanders, Warren and Trump campaigns didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Aging is associated with multiple kinds of cognitive decline. But Kupferman insists voters should evaluate candidates individually, rather than ruling out candidates because of their age.
“We all know people in their eighties that are completely in control,” Kupferman said.
At an early July pro-Trump rally outside the White House, rallygoer William Temple, dressed in a Revolutionary War costume, insisted that Biden was too old for the White House. On the other hand, he insisted that Trump, who is just a few years younger than the former vice president, would have no age-related problems.
Temple declined to give his own age, insisting that he was more than 200 years old, an apparent reference to his costume.
Seventy-five-year-old socialist activist Dr. Jerome Segal, who has been outspoken in his criticism of the focus on age in the presidential race, said concerns about candidates’ age reflect a larger bias against the old in the United States.
“One of the great problems with America is that we basically have this arbitrary way of treating people as if, at a certain point, they no longer have important contributions to make to the life of society or to the life of people around them,” said Segal, who ran for a Senate in Maryland in 2018. “And we lose enormously.”
If elected, Sanders would become the oldest person to take the office in U.S. history—surpassing Trump, the current record holder. Meanwhile, Biden has been dogged by questions about whether his age would hold him back, both as a general election candidate and as president. Asked on Saturday about voters concerned about his age, Biden said voters worried about his age shouldn’t vote for him.
"I say if they're concerned, don't vote for me," Biden said.
Ida Shiang, a communications director at older people rights group HelpAge, said the concerns about the presidential candidates’ ages in the presidential race are reinforcing ageist attitudes.
“It ends up hurting everybody,” Shiang said. “Not just the people who are old now, but also the people who are young now and will be older in the future.”