When Hillary Clinton first announced for her run for the White House, conservative wags on Twitter immediately started a hashtag #hillarysoold mocking the former senator and secretary of state for her relatively advanced age compared to her Republican counterparts.
There are at least two problems with such attacks. First, Clinton is the same age as Ronald Reagan was at this point in 1979 and she would be the same age—69 years old—as The Gipper was when he entered the White House in 1981. More important, as I argue in a new Daily Beast article, old age has radically changed over the past few decades:
If Hillary is elected, she'll be 69 years old when she takes office in January 2017. That's not just old, that's William Henry Harrison old. It's Ronald Reagan old. Yet her advanced age doesn't matter one liver spot in the campaign, nor should it. We may be divided by vitally important issues—Iranian nukes, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and whether we should finally adopt European shoe sizes (per Lincoln Chaffee's bold policy proposals)—but we can certainly agree that aging is nothing like it used to be when The Who and The Rolling Stones sang mid-'60s baby boomer anthems about hoping to "die before I get old" and "what a drag it is getting old." (With the Stones currently on tour and Mick Jagger doing his chicken dance at the ripe old age of 71, who's laughing now, Brian Jones?)
Simply put, there's never been a better time to get old, and not just because old farts over 65 have massively increased their wealth relative to the rest of us and can now gum down pills that will make them think sharper, feel hornier, be more continent, and stay awake while binge-watching Murder, She Wrote on Netflix. If we have not yet defeated death and senescence, we have taken long strides toward making it a manageable condition.
You know the drill: 40 is the new 30, 60 is the new 50, and unless you're Harrison Ford behind the controls of a vintage airplane or foolishly letting magician David Blaine into your house, 72 is the new 70 or so.
Here's the catch, though: Clinton's body and mind may be younger than yesterday, but her policy ideas and thinking are like soooo last century.
Which isn't to say that she's immune from age-based attacks. Not on her person, but on her ideas, which are at least as "stale and moss-covered" in their own way as Rand Paul says the Republican Party has become. Looking over her left shoulder at progressive Democrats such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, Clinton often sounds like she is auditioning to implement Barack Obama's third term. Where her husband long ago heralded the "era of big government is over" and proceeded not simply to balance the budget but drive down federal expenditures as a percentage of GDP to well-below averages (see page 345) (PDF), Clinton sounds like an old-style unreconstructed liberal who will tax, spend, and regulate like it's 1969.
When you look at a wide range of issues, Clinton is flat-out awful or, arguably worse, in the midst of a politically driven conversion (as happened to her on gay marriage). She's awful on the drug war, on privacy, on NSA/Edward Snowden, and more. She's going to need to be the rhetorical equivalent of Houdini to wriggle out of her hawkish past as a senator and secretary of state. The one thing she's got going for? Virtually of her Republican opponents, with the notable and partial exception of Rand Paul, are even worse on the same issues.