The esteemed political writer Charlie Cook recently produced a column titled “Is Hillary Clinton Too Old to Run?” Despite couching his thoughts with a mention that if Clinton were to run, she would be the same age as Ronald Reagan when he was first elected president, 69, he did venture over the sexism line.
The giveaway came toward the end when Cook noted that Clinton could be challenged for the nomination by Vice President Joe Biden, without noting Biden’s age. Biden is almost five years older than she is.
In response to the raised eyebrows, Cook’s next column was headlined “Is Joe Biden Too Old to Run?” In it, Cook explained that the Clinton column was not about the vice president. True, but it was about the age of presidential candidates, wasn’t it?
Both men and women face age discrimination, but it’s no secret that for women, ageism mixes easily with sexism. And obsessing over a woman’s year of birth is often a slightly more respectable substitute for the latter.
Of course, age can be a consideration as it relates to questions of health. The best approach is to take the candidates one at a time. Frankly, I’d rather be insuring 71-year-old Joe Biden than 51-year-old Chris Christie, New Jersey’s overweight governor and an oft-mentioned presidential candidate (though not so much these days).
The point is that age arguments get dumped on women without much reflection. During the 2008 presidential campaign, the late Christopher Hitchens famously dismissed Clinton as an “aging and resentful female.” Even some liberal supporters of Barack Obama were not above making outrageously ageist/sexist remarks.
I don’t recall similar conversations on another presidential candidate running in 2008 — and again in 2012 — Republican Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor remains a vigorous man, and if he wanted to run again, why would his vintage be an issue?
True, Clinton is not the same age as Romney. She’s seven months younger.
Cook pointed out that Clinton did suffer an episode of fainting after a grueling travel schedule as secretary of state. Fair enough. But then he went on to discuss Bill Clinton’s heart surgery, adding that while “he looks healthy,” presidential campaigns are “team efforts.”
Again, was anyone raising such concerns about Romney’s wife, Ann, who had been diagnosed with both multiple sclerosis and breast cancer? She actually shared her medical story on the campaign trail, a not-bad political strategy.
Cook interestingly reported that of the 4,200 comments after his Hillary Clinton piece, the vast majority “were anti-Clinton and among the most vitriolic” that he has “encountered in 28 years of column writing.” This reflects, he said, an enduring “deep-seated hatred for the Clintons.”
No doubt that’s an accurate take on a passionate subculture, but what is the political reality? Thousands of Clintons-are-bums comments say nothing other than Clinton haters have a lot of time on their hands. They make shows of force to leave the impression that they are legion. (That’s especially easy to do when everyone else is watching the Olympics.)
It seems that no one really likes the Clintons except the great majority of the people. Be mindful that on the heels of the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal, Bill Clinton left office with a higher approval rating than did Reagan.
The mission here is not to organize a brass band to follow another “Clinton for President” parade, which, one must note, Clinton has not yet committed herself to lead. Other worthy candidates may well join the race.
The mission is to ensure that questions on politicians’ ages be divided equally among the genders. Not doing so is worse than unfair.
Froma Harrop is a syndicated columnist. Follow her on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at: [email protected]