Gergen, who has served as an adviser to four presidents of both parties, circled the book with an important message: Age is a problem. “I just turned 80 and I can tell you that you lose your – you lose a step. You are not so sharp. You are more forgetful. You’re not sure where you’re going,” he recently told “PBS NewsHour” anchor Judy Woodruff, who is 75 and retiring at the end of the year.
“You can’t – it’s too old to be president,” added Gergen.
Neither Gergen nor Woodruff seemed to be out of their respective games during this conversation. Both have had spectacular careers and will continue to work to some degree. But their decisions to let the younger ones in are admirable and appropriate. No one wants to stay too long at the party or force others to recoil in pity when a once-bright star begins to fade.
So I made a pact with a friend, a young journalist from Washington, Texas. Abby Livingston cites what she calls “Giuliani’s Rule,” which will guide her in deciding when to tell me it’s time to pack up my keyboard. The rule references a press conference the former New York City mayor conducted in November 2020 when his dark hair coloring started running down his cheek in trickles of sweat. Such an ignominious end to a once heroic career. With Abby’s help, my tasteful blonde highlights will leave the stage intact, along with my dignity.
It’s hard to know or admit when you’re “too old,” or, say, too Giuliani. Gergen warns against people trying to cling to power. But other factors could be just as important, if not more so. We are what we do. When we stop doing something so essential to our identity, then what are we? Just old? Or, a far worse fate for Washingtonians, unimportant?
Surely Gergen is right that a younger generation should be given the opportunity to lead. Unquestionably, it is their right. But baby boomers, whom Gergen roughly describes as a “disappointment,” are unwilling or unable to give up. Today, baby boomers make up 53% of the House and 68% of the Senate.
And then there are Nancy Pelosi, 82, and Mitch McConnell, 80, Speaker of the House and Senate Minority Leader respectively. Both are considered unrivaled in the performance of their duties. So why should they retire – and who would be most effective?
Answer: Because they had long turns, it’s the right thing to do, and no one is irreplaceable.
Gergen is also, albeit gently, ruthless towards Donald Trump, 75, and Joe Biden, 79, who are both threatening to run in 2024. Oh. Please not yet. If Biden were to be re-elected, he would be 82 at the start of his second term. Already it is showing distinct signs of age which, with all due respect, are clearly getting worse. Maybe Biden has no real intention of running again and is just trying to stabilize the troops. But another race in 2024 would likely be a painful and possibly sad sight. The forced jog on the steps of Air Force One is already nerve-wracking to watch.
If he won, Trump would be 78, a year younger than Biden currently. Halfway through his term, however, he would be 80 and ripe 82 before he finishes, assuming he does. Maybe he, too, is just bragging about keeping himself in the rallies and headlines — and keeping MAGA unified. But who would want to be ruled by an even more alien elderly Trump for another four terrifying years? (This is a rhetorical question; please don’t answer.)
The retirements of Pelosi, Biden, McConnell and Trump would not be enough to break the boomer curse. (Only Trump is actually a member of the post-war baby boom generation; the other three, born in the early 1940s, are members of the silent generation.) Their departures wouldn’t sweeten the legacy either. of their larger cohort, which Gergen describes as “crisis upon crisis we haven’t resolved, actions we haven’t taken” and an “unsustainable” path. But a group farewell would be welcome in a weary country. Same old, same old, is no way to go.
Thanks to Gergen, the seed has been planted. The question is whether his contemporaries can embrace their highest goal – to ensure that the next generation has the skills and tools to lead the country into a more perfect union. We will all kiss.