“If at eighty,” novelist Henry Miller wrote, “…you have your health, if you still enjoy a good walk, a good meal (with all the trimmings), if you can sleep without first taking a pill, if birds and flowers, mountains and sea still inspire you, you are a most fortunate individual and you should get down on your knees morning and night and thank the good Lord for his savin’ and keepin’ power.”
Similar thoughts about being – or soon becoming – an octogenarian must surely come to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who’s 82, former President Donald Trump, who’s 76, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who’s 80, and President Joe Biden, who turns 80 today. All four were in the news last week, with their political futures at issue.
Pelosi chose to step down as leader of her party after it narrowly lost control of the House. Trump announced he’s running for president again. McConnell fended off a challenge to his GOP Senate leadership. And Biden, whose party scored an unexpectedly good performance in the midterms, has said he will decide in the next few months whether to make good on his intention of running again in 2024.
“The verve and drive of older leaders is admirable at an age when many people are long retired – and an example to society that the elderly are just as capable and worthy as younger generations,” wrote Stephen Collinson for CNN Politics. “Yet the prominence of the seventy-and-eighty somethings at the top of the political tree does also raise questions about whether it is healthy that younger politicians are not at this moment in American history taking more responsibility or have more power.”
In corporate America, “genius” is often seen as a substitute for the experience of age. Elon Musk, a 51-year-old who’s the richest person in the world, has been called a genius for his entrepreneurial skill at Tesla and SpaceX and even for his ambition to go to Mars. Yet “Musk’s actions since taking over Twitter on Oct. 27 have been so destructive to the platform’s functioning and reputation that the question is raised of whether, rather than being a genius, Musk is in fact an idiot,” wrote Michael Hiltzik in the Los Angeles Times. “Perhaps that’s extreme. But it’s proper to examine how and why someone so unquestionably successful in his business career thus far has gone off the rails now.”