October 9th, 2008
02:15 PM ET

Does age matter at the White House?

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Dr. Sanjay Gupta
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent

Lately, there has been a lot of talk about double standards when it comes to the health of the presidential candidates. An ad from the group Brave New Films that ran in the New York Times called for Sen. John McCain to release all his medical records to the public, not just journalists. McCain campaign officials told us this was a double standard, reminding us that Sen. Barack Obama released only a one-page summary, basically stating he was in excellent health.

But, when it comes to double standards, there is something else worth considering. We have retirement ages for many different professions in this country. CEOs at many large companies including American Airlines, Boeing and Exxon are required to step down at 65. Airline pilots, for example, must retire at 65, a limit set by Congress. Generals and admirals in the U.S. military face a mandatory retirement age of 64, even though their commander-in-chief does not. As we all know, there is no mandatory retirement age for president.

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Editor’s Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

Filed under: Barack Obama • Dr. Sanjay Gupta • John McCain • Raw Politics
soundoff (42 Responses)
  1. James Neligan

    I believe that age is a huge factor. We know that Senator McCain served in Vietnam and must have suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Mixed with being a POW and being sprayed with a toxic chemical, does not give me a great deal of confidence that he is in the best health.

    For all the talk about Barack Obama not having experience, if we saw an unfortunate deterioration in health from Senator McCain, our country would usher into office the largest contradiction to the experience debate.

    Sarah Palin is not a woman I could see pulling the United States from disaster we are living in. She treats debates as if she is on "American Top 40 with Ryan Secrest", giving shoutouts to children, "joe six pack" and those gosh darn hockey mom's. We haven't seen the grace of such unintelligent speeches since George W. Bush. I think it's time to wake up America.

    October 10, 2008 at 2:22 am |

    I'm also mad as hell with the Democrats and the Republicans. Hillary shouldn't have had to drop out of the race, just so they could have one person running! She should have been able to stay in the race until the people voted! Our system is so crooked with the electorial college, that I'm ashamed of the circus this election has become! I'm also embarrased for US borrowing from our enemies, to try to bale out the market. I want a push to eliminate the electorial college. I also personally think there should be an elimination of the Big Conventions! It's a total waste of money unless all presidential candidates could stay in the race and be nominated to run against each other at the conventions. The candidates would really have to prove themselves worthy of the position they are running for. The way the nomination of candidates are running now is a farce! Crooked as hell! The politicians have made our Government System Failure, for the election and the economy! They had better watch out, because the people are angry enough to take over the Government, and we should toss all of them out of office!!!!!

    October 10, 2008 at 2:05 am |
  3. V, WA

    Age and health matter in the White House. VP will take over when the President is sick or away. That leads to why Palin is in the spot light. I don't expect a VP can wink it when she/he is supposed make serious decision like 911 or economic crisis. Although people may die young, that's much shorter life expectancy for older people.

    October 9, 2008 at 11:52 pm |
  4. A Thinking Voter

    Age does matter when one is tapped to handle the severest crisis this country has ever had. A ripe age that is synonymous to wisdom and conviction honed by years of experience. Nothing beats that, and that's why i vote McCain.

    October 9, 2008 at 11:33 pm |
  5. Barb, Des Plaines

    Age is a factor but just one. What's really got me is he just seems to be a little less than mentally sharp and a little more out of touch with what's really going on. What he calls being a "Maverick" strikes me as his being prone to making rash decisions such as, his Palin pick for VP, his call for a spending freeze, his attempt to cancel the second debate. Is this guy a loose cannon or what. I don't feel I could count on him at all.

    October 9, 2008 at 9:57 pm |
  6. Dave

    Age does matter, but so does aptitude and character and experience. Those readers who have mentioned longer life-expectancies of people today and better doctor care are correct.

    The problem is neither man has the executive experience I would like to see leading our country – not do either of the vice-presidential candidates, although at least Palin has some (experience).

    The Democrats seem to be the proliferators of "vote for us we're good for the middle class" and they do that to get votes. Once people realize that Obama doesn't have the leadership experience necessary to lead the free world, our nation will regret electing him.

    October 9, 2008 at 9:33 pm |
  7. GAIL Centre,Al;

    No age does not matter, but what does matter is people know their candidates. Obama has had a free pass too long. The people need to know who he is. After 20 months we know nothing about this man. Everything we learn, no help from CNN, is very disturbing. Today we learn of Acorn's voter fraud. Acorn had a good teacher,Obama. That's the way Obama works, cheating people thru his community service. If we new everything about Obama we would move to another country. Shame on you CNN, the people deserve to know the truth. Obama can't hide forever. shameful

    MCcain -Palin 08
    Hillary supporter

    October 9, 2008 at 9:15 pm |
  8. Stone

    I find McCain to be a very devious individual with some serious anger issues and extremely unstable. He is not Presidential by a long shot. His choices have been poor always in the hopes of "showboating", not for the good of all. Governor Palin as his running mate is his projection of incompetence. And now we have to watch his wife twisting words while she shows off her newest couture. Do any of these people really care about the Americans they profess they want to represent? Looks like they just want the White House and if they don't get it one way or another, will resort to lies and deceit.

    Personally, I am sick of this whole mess.
    The McCain campaign is getting far too close to "Inciting Riots" . Oh, btw I have already voted and as you have guessed NOT for McCain.

    October 9, 2008 at 8:32 pm |
  9. lampe

    Well lets see. Obama, could have a heart attack, you do know people Obama's age, have been known to have them. Which would then leave us with Biden. Let's see he is old has had health problems, if I remember correctly it was something to do with his brain. So let's see #2's Someone with brain problems, or someone with good health, and is alot younger. If I had to pick on just that, I would pick Gov. Palin.

    October 9, 2008 at 8:24 pm |
  10. concern

    isssuses are very important, but age has to matter when you have sarah stnding in the back ground ..and is not capable of holding the position ...but we have to also look at regan as a president ..not be able to recal ...so yes age is important too

    October 9, 2008 at 8:21 pm |
  11. Surafel Melaku

    O yes! it does and should! especially, when you've cancer and tend to forget what you said the next day! 74 years old means get ready for the call lol. We should give John McCain a rest not another mental and physical issue/stress god won't accept it from us.

    October 9, 2008 at 7:10 pm |
  12. jt

    McCain is the right age for steady hand. More secure America.

    Too young like Bill Clinton. Remember the stain on blue dress?

    October 9, 2008 at 7:08 pm |
  13. Maritza

    McCain has more energy than Obama / Biden , for his age he has an incredible stamina and is sharp minded, listen carefully to the mistakes , gaffs as you call them , listen to Biden and his warped sence of time , what's their excuse? Obama studders and rambles on and on into rhetoric when he doesn't have a good enough answer, for the constant drive and the relentless schedules these candidates are expected to maintain McCain at his age in amazing, they don't rest normal hours, they are on overdrive every second their out on the campaign train, and the media in their face is another source of added stress, especially the far left media, you seem to imply a negative tone , and of course it's all agaist McCain , not Obama ...never him.


    October 9, 2008 at 6:41 pm |
  14. Kathy

    Age does not matter BUT If Country First then "Why is McCain standing for presidency with so many health issues". If Country first then why did he choose Sarah Palin to be his running mate.

    October 9, 2008 at 6:40 pm |
  15. tom cassidy-florida

    As a 58 year old age matters to me when you come across like the crabby old guy down the street who the kids are scared of because he has no patience. He let the world change without him, he is locked into the ways of the past. He would rather argue rather than talk, yell at the kids for their music while he listens to his transister radio.

    October 9, 2008 at 6:38 pm |
  16. Jolene, St. Joseph, MI

    I don't think there should be a manatory age for retirement on any position. If you are capable of performing your job responsibilies and still have the desire to work, you should be able to. I always find it interesting that those who retire at 55+, end up getting hired back within the company as "contractors" (making 10x more money) because the company can't afford to lose their expertise and experience.

    With us being in this current economic crisis, it really would be a shame to force people to retire. Those close to retiring are the ones suffering the most right now.

    October 9, 2008 at 6:29 pm |
  17. Winfield

    No, age does not matter. Health is a larger concern in ones ability to do the job. Anyone can contract an illness or have a hidden timebomb within themselves. Sen. McCain has aan advanced age issue but seems pretty healthy considering what has happened in his life. Sen. Obama also appears healthy, but I am concerned that he may have underlining heart issues. What clues me in is the slight discoloration of the lips (bluish) and the hands match that color at times. This is a real indicator of heart disease, but only one of many indicators that can point towards heart disease. Sen. Obama may not have a heart condition or he may, the point is no one should be assumed to be less healthy than someone else strictly because of age.

    October 9, 2008 at 6:20 pm |
  18. Lamont austin

    Come on CLaRk, Obama is not for big gov. but obviously there has to be some regulation on how are money is maintained. Thats why we're in the particular position, the wrong people doing whatever they want with no one regulating good or bad, so "DUDE" get some brains
    I know you've heard every contridiction and every circumstantiation mcclame has put fourth, the views he's known for are NOT the same views he goes by today if you've been paying attention you know thats true.
    He's been in trouble with congress, he's messed around on his wife, he's was a part of the keating 5 come on you guys you cant really be voting for this "shyster" and if you are, you've got more mental problems to be trying to rationalize who's fit to be president.

    He's too old, too out of it, and too dumb!!!!


    October 9, 2008 at 6:11 pm |
  19. robert

    I think it does matter in the sense that does the person i vote for see isssues as i do? Can he relate to the things that are important to my age group? Does his age disconnect with those 15 yrs younger them himself? So, I think it is important.that a president can inspire all age groups at all times.

    October 9, 2008 at 6:10 pm |
  20. Larry

    Let's see, Sen.McCain served in Vietnam and continued to serve in the military for a number of years afterwards. His melanoma was probably due to some conditions of his confinement in the hotel.

    Sen. Joe Biden received 6 deferments from serving during the Vietnam War, due to 'asthma'. If his asthma kept him out of the military then how serious is it? He has also had several brain surgeries. At 65 years of age, was he a good choice by Sen. Obama?

    October 9, 2008 at 5:58 pm |
  21. Rodney Bonds

    Had oporotunity to listen to some of his stump Sen. Mcain and his running mate today and found that he defered to Mrs. Palin after babling on for a while, is he really there or is his plan as a Maverick to hand over the Presidency to another incompetent person for another 4 years. He is a bitter old man who thinks the USA owes him something. With all that money and all those houses I would be relaxing at his age. Don't you know:)

    October 9, 2008 at 5:37 pm |
  22. Carol

    Did anyone see the clip yesterday of McCain saying "my fellow prisoners" instead of "my fellow Americans"? It's sad but true- as we get older we are not as sharp as we were when we were younger. The debate showed how old and feeble McCain has become. It is scary because he chose a completely incompetent loon as his VP.

    October 9, 2008 at 5:37 pm |
  23. Jeanette

    I didn't think age was important as the health issues, however if he hadn't picked such a bad choice for VP I would have voted for him. This makes it real scary and NOW this makes it very important. She wants to take away too many free choices for the American people. Why does she think she should impose her way of life on all of us? Women had to fight for our rights for many years and she thinks she should come in and take away choices from us.

    October 9, 2008 at 5:34 pm |

    McCain's health is an issue because of his Vice Presidential choice.

    October 9, 2008 at 5:23 pm |
  25. Baxter

    I've long stated that there needs to be an upper age limit set on entering the presidency. After all, you're not allowed to become president until your mid 30's.

    The upper limit should be set to 57 or 58.

    October 9, 2008 at 5:09 pm |
  26. Maureen / Newman, California

    McCain is old, but I think the main reason this has been such an issue is because he chose an incompetent, narrowminded, hateful running mate who is also a religious fanatic.

    October 9, 2008 at 5:08 pm |
  27. JC- Los Angeles

    As evidenced by the sorry state of our nation, America can be run into the ground by people of all ages.

    October 9, 2008 at 4:55 pm |
  28. Rose from Calif

    Age shouldn't be a issue if the President is HEALTHY. But if he or she had have a problem in the past it should be address openly RECORDS and all.

    October 9, 2008 at 4:47 pm |
  29. Lamont austin

    Yes and no, If the candidate is mobile and and its obvious his mental capacity is good yes, but if its Mcclame NO

    October 9, 2008 at 4:42 pm |
  30. lampe

    Susan; Another why to think about it is this. If you are going to have open heart surgery. Who would you rather have do it, a doctor, who has only been doing them for a couple of years, or a doctor, who has been doing them a lot longer, with a better survival rate?

    October 9, 2008 at 4:33 pm |
  31. Alex

    Age matters when you consider all the things McCain has gone through in his life. McCain should have stepped aside for someone younger within the Republican Party, but it appears the economy will take care of his inability to see beyond himself. That same issue will take care of the inexperience of his VP pick as well.

    October 9, 2008 at 4:19 pm |
  32. Carol Grizzard

    There is no mandatory retirement age for Presidents. But when a nominee for President–one who has had several cancer surgeries–has selected as his Vice President someone so unqualified that she can't name a Supreme Court case, it's hard not to panic.

    October 9, 2008 at 4:09 pm |
  33. Austin.

    It would make sense if there were, wouldn’t it Doctor? Why should it be any different for the Commander-in-chief? This is one of the most stressful jobs in the world, Why wouldn’t there be? I agree, this is a double standard!!

    October 9, 2008 at 3:36 pm |

    Age does matter. Frankly, I'm pushing 60 and I am not at all happy about nor ashamed of the fact that my mind is not as sharp as it was even 5 or 10 years ago. It's harder to compute, make decisions, react quickly, emote appropriately. And as a physician, I know that the most obvious signs of aging–arthritis, loss of height, wrinkles, age spots, thinning hair, etc–are not only outer signs of deterioration. They also reflect similar and invisible deterioration on the inside . It is well known that an MRI of the brains of 'mature adults' will demonstrate that the brain deteriorates as we age, particularly when it has been affected by NUMEROUS CONCUSSIONS, TRUAMA AND INTENSE STRESS. That this describes McCain who constantly retells the story of his horrific torture in Vietnam should be taken into account. Erratic behavior and anger control issues are a hallmark of Individuals with repetitive brain trauma. So if we should take McCain at his word, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand why he has a reputation for being a hot head and impulsive. So not only does AGE matter, so does one's part health and trauma history.

    October 9, 2008 at 3:29 pm |
  35. Thomas

    Age can mean wisdom in some. And more of the same with others .
    I'm 52 and want the Best and the Brightest , age or race dosn't mater.
    I'm looking forward to a President younger then myself.

    October 9, 2008 at 3:03 pm |
  36. Susan

    This is the way I see this. If I was to have open heart surgery, which surgeon would I pick the Harvard educated middle aged brilliant man in obvious superior physical and mental health and desire for excellence and knowledge and skill, or the retirement age man of suspicious physical and mental health who acts impulsively, has a temper, always seems nervous and seems to care more about being the hero, being a president than being himself. I would pick the former, and since our country needs the equivalent of open heart surgery I emplore every one of us to use that same criteria for picking our next presidential and vice president... pick it as if your life depended on it for our country's health does... don't pick it to reward a hero, or to have a women who is like you in there or like a joe 6 pack and brags about it, pick someone who will bring us peace and prosperity and with sound judgment, I know I have to pick Obama/Biden!

    October 9, 2008 at 2:49 pm |
  37. Faiz

    Yes age does matter. People vote for one on top of the ticket. If he/she does not complete the term then we are stuck with the person at the bottom of the ticket who is not elected during primaries but instead selected by the winner. In case of McCain, it matters even more. His choice is dangerous. No matter how much pre-written speeches she delivers I cannot forget her answers to Katie's question. Her not attending Press Conference also shows her confidence level and makes her even more dangerous. So yes it is important and in case of McCain it is very important.

    Thinking outside partisan lines, there is a mandatory retirement age for government employees. I personally think that this should be applied to people in public office from City Councils, to US Congress, to the Oval office. Same way as there is a minimum age to run for a office. There should be a maximum age as well.

    October 9, 2008 at 2:47 pm |
  38. Devon in California

    Dr. Gupta:

    Of course age matters. The Constitution offers a minimum age for the office of president but not a maximum. Part of "service to the country" is the ability to serve; if a candidate knows of certain health issues that might impact her or his service, the candidate should withdraw (or the voters should withhold their votes). However, given longer life expectancies and advances in medicine, mandatory retirement ages should be reconsidered across the board. Eliminated, no, but extended. After all, mandatory retirement ages do allow for an influx of new blood, visions and ideas.

    October 9, 2008 at 2:45 pm |
  39. Jai T.

    Age matters when it is combined with health issues such as melanoma(the most malignant form of skin cancer).

    Age matters when you are at risk of passing away and leaving the country to a vice president that is not the brightest(the most malignant form of republican).

    Age matters when you aren't able to debate without breathing heavily in a town hall setting. God help us all if McCain wins and start praying for him to saty alive or else the moose shooter from Alaska will give us she-Bush.

    October 9, 2008 at 2:34 pm |
  40. Deirdre

    How interesting that there was never an age limit set for the Presidency. But then again, back in the day I don't think people lived as long as they do these days did they? We're living longer and experiencing things like alzheimers, dementia, etc. Perhaps long ago they just thought that an older man would use common sense and not even want to sacrifice the well-being of America for selfish reasons.
    Age should matter just so we don't have people who put themselves and their careers first.

    October 9, 2008 at 2:28 pm |
  41. Clark

    No, age doesn't matter except as limited by the Constitution. Any of us can get sick or die at any age.

    What does matter is values .... I will vote for the individual that most closely agrees with the values of our forefathers. Our forefathers left Europe to get away from a system that was weighted far too heavily toward government.

    Senator Obama wants to increase the powers and therefor government intrusion into every aspect of our lives.

    I will not vote for Senator Obama .... I hold to the values of our forefathers not the values of Senator Obama.

    October 9, 2008 at 2:26 pm |
  42. Larry

    Interesting. What is the mandatory retirement age for physicians & surgeons, university professors, lawyers, motor vehicle operators, farmers, members of congress, fishermen, etc?

    October 9, 2008 at 2:24 pm |