WARD: America’s first octogenarian president?

Media disserves the electorate by ignoring Ron Paul’s advanced age

The date was Oct. 21, 1984. The venue was Kansas City, Mo. The occasion was the second Reagan-Mondale presidential debate. Henry Trewhitt of the Baltimore Sun was called upon by the moderator, former NBC reporter Edwin Newman. Trewhitt proceeded to ask 73-year-old President Ronald Reagan whether, given his age, he was confident that he was fit to serve a second term as president of the United States. Reagan dismissed any need for concern about his health and his ability to serve a second term. He then brought down the house, quipping that he had decided that during campaign season, he would not make Walter Mondale’s youth and inexperience an issue in the election.

Ron Paul is now 76 years old. If he were to win the presidency in November, he will be well into his 78th year of life and would be 81 by the end of his first term. Should the media be asking more questions about whether Mr. Paul is fit to be president, given his advanced age? Granted, Mr. Paul’s parents both lived until 93. He may also have quite a few years ahead of him in public life. But until what age can one function effectively in as demanding a position as the presidency of the United States?

If Mr. Paul were elected president and inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2013, he would be by that time six months older than Reagan was when he completed his second term of office in early 1989. Why don’t reporters ask Mr. Paul whether he plans to serve one term or two? If the answer is one term, shouldn’t the Republican Party and those voting in the primaries be apprised of that before they choose a candidate?

There were 16 primary debates in 2011 in which Mr. Paul participated. Disappointingly, questions regarding his age and fitness remained off the table. Is the media serving the interests of the public by continuing to avoid these questions and the investigative reporting that should surround them, especially if Mr. Paul continues to accrue serious support? Or will these only become “causes for concern” in the event that Mr. Paul indeed manages to become the Republican nominee? The media should be as concerned about properly vetting presidential candidates in the primaries as they are in the general elections. They ought to be as thorough and insistent with Mr. Paul as they were with Herman Cain. Are the effects of aging any less a factor in gauging a presidential candidate’s ability to serve than faithfulness to one’s spouse?

The last American military forces left Iraq at the end of December and are preparing to leave Afghanistan. Within 48 hours of our departure from Iraq, there were major bombings in Baghdad killing scores of innocents. America and her allies face the challenges of internal and external threats to our collective security. Is it wise to turn over the reins of the government of the United States of America to an elderly leader who has not hedged on his intent to close U.S. military bases on foreign soil around the world? The election of Ron Paul could put the United States and her allies into a collective security tailspin. The pilot of our flight will be a president who at his inauguration in 2012 would be about six months older than Ronald Reagan was when he completed his two terms of office in 1988.

The media ought to be paying more attention to Mr. Paul’s age. Isn’t this part of the news that is “fit to print?” The debates need to invite discussion of this issue early on in 2012. Responsible journalists should not allow it to be a “gotcha” issue that suddenly tips the scales in the general election. Why not make this an issue in the Jan. 7 New Hampshire primary debate hosted by ABC?

Henry Trewhitt died in 2003. Someone should pick up his mantle and dare to pose the question to Mr. Paul. Presidential campaigns serve two purposes. They vet ideas and they vet candidates. In Mr. Paul’s case, both are important. He brings both innovative and controversial ideas into our political discourse but, for the sake of nation, shouldn’t the media provide the American electorate with more coverage of the age issue so they can better assess whether this is Ron Paul’s time?

Thomas J. Ward is dean of the International College at the University of Bridgeport.

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