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Why Bernie Sanders' age doesn't matter

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It's official: Bernie Sanders is running for President in 2020 (image by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia).

Sanders’ age of 77 years shouldn’t deter U.S. voters from supporting him, writes assistant editor Nicholas Bugeja.

A FEW DAYS AGO, Bernie Sanders, the self-proclaimed democratic socialist, announced his intention to run for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020. His announcement video was what we had come to expect: a zealous commitment to targeting the excesses of neoliberal capitalism, as well as offering a bright, optimistic vision for the future of America and the world.

In classic Sanders style, he stated:

Our campaign is not only about defeating Donald Trump, the most dangerous President in modern American history … our campaign is about transforming our country and a government based on the principles of economic, social, racial and environmental justice.

Sanders’ decision about whether to run or to hand the baton to a new generation of Democratic politicians has been heavily anticipated by voters and media figures alike. His announcement has flooded the social media airwaves, giving his supporters the chance to build upon his 2016 efforts.

Many are pointedly elated by his inclusion in the race, as he offers the most consistent and sustained left-wing policy of the declared candidates thus far.

Others are less excited by his run, some of whom have expressed deep concern about his candidacy. They typically blame Sanders for derailing Hillary Clinton’s campaign; for providing current U.S. President Donald Trump with various political attacks that damaged her chances. For instance, Trump enthusiastically co-opted Sanders critique of Clinton's cosy connection to Wall Street, wounding her politically. 

Some moderates are furious that Sanders has the gall to run as a Democrat when he identifies as an Independent in the U.S. Senate and is continuously critical of Democratic Party policy and its bureaucracy.

Another criticism made of Sanders – less focused on his policy positions and character – is that he is too old. At 77 years of age, it’s time for another candidate to come forth and spread new, energetic ideas in stark contrast to Trump’s politics of fragmentation and resentment.

It is true that Sanders isn’t a young man anymore. But that fact, in and of itself, shouldn’t be enough for people not to vote for him, for him not to earn the Democratic nomination to take on Trump. The most obvious concern about his age is that he may die or deteriorate in office.

While this cannot necessarily be ruled out, judging from his current health, it doesn’t seem likely that Sanders would have any significant health problems in his first four years as president, at the very least.

He sustained himself remarkably well in the 2016 Democratic primary, experiencing no reported ill-health while doing townhall meetings, Democratic debates, holding enormous rallies and meeting ordinary American folk all around the country. A long-distance runner in his earlier days, Sanders still plays basketball and has even been seen running for a subway train in New York.

Following his tilt at the Democratic nomination, Sanders has remained ever-active in the fight against Trump. He has done tours in the neglected blue-collar corners of the country, routinely appeared on CNN, MSNBC and the like, and performed his duties eminently in the U.S. Senate. On viewing this evidence, it is overly presumptuous to conclude, at this stage, that his health will fail him should he be elected the 46th president.

Other Democratic candidates, too, are getting on in age. Elizabeth Warren is 69 years old, while potential candidates Joe Biden and Michael Bloomberg are 74 and 77 respectively. The same questions have not been raised of their ages.

One might also do well to remember that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg is, despite some health complications, still proving herself a formidable opponent of Trump's in the judiciary at 85 years old.

Most important, Trump is 72 years of age, five mere years less than Sanders. There has been nothing said of his age and very little of his health. Yet he is considerably overweight, apparently does very little exercise other than golfing (which he admittedly does a lot of) and is a known connoisseur of fast food, including McDonald's.

If questions about Sanders’ age are going to be raised, then it only seems logical for voters to be very concerned about Trump’s ability to see out the next six years of a potential presidency.

In the sad event that Sanders didn’t finish his term in office, this wouldn’t be an utter calamity. His vice-president, whomever that could be, would step into the position of president.

If voters identify with Sanders vision and policies, then his fact alone should be sufficient to completely allay concerns about his age. There is little doubt that Sanders would select a vice-presidential candidate in synchronicity with his political commitments. So even if he left the office of president, he would be replaced by somebody who pro-Sanders voters could trust to implement his ideas for 21st Century America.

Another argument against Sanders is that a new breed of politicians, like Beto O’Rourke or Kamala Harris, should be charged with leading the fight against Trump.

Older people are usually painted as having a different set of views to younger voters, unable to connect meaningfully with the majority of the populace. This is certainly not a non-issue. Many Australian politicians, such as Eric Abetz or Kevin Andrews, offer pressing examples of this problem. However, Sanders is immune to this slight.

It would be hard to find an American politician more committed to solving 21st Century problems than Sanders. He has made his name campaigning for universal healthcare, alleviating education debt and providing free education for public colleges in America, legalising marijuana and making progress into preventing the worst impacts of climate change.

That his closest ideological compatriot in the U.S. Government is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 29-year-old, woman of colour in the House of Representatives, reveals much about his unbreakable bond with the younger generations. Another sign was that in 2016 his "base" primarily consisted of 18-34-year-olds, engaging them in the political process in almost unprecedented numbers.

Despite his age, Sanders is clearly a candidate aware of, and profoundly interested in, the greatest and most intractable of modern injustices and problems.

Voters who supported Bernie in 2016 have no reason to deviate from him now. If they still retain that commitment to social justice, reforming the economic system and saving the planet, there isn’t a more appropriate candidate. Although he would be the oldest president in American history, this shouldn’t prove a cause for concern. He would also be the first Jewish president and the most avowedly left-wing.

And perhaps they won't, given that he raised US$6 million (AU$8.42 million) in campaign contributions within 24 hours of announcing his run. 

Nicholas Bugeja is an assistant editor for Independent Australia. You can follow him at @BugejaNick.

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