Friday, June 12, 2009

Bush's Birthday

America has never had very many living ex–presidents at any given time.

In part, that's because most presidents have come to the job comparatively late in life. Today, we have a president who will just barely be in his 50s when his four–year term comes to an end, but most presidents have been in their mid–50s or even their 60s when they entered the Oval Office.

You can blame that, in part, on the Constitution, I guess, which states that, as one of the qualifications for serving as president, a person must be at least 35 years old. John F. Kennedy was the youngest man ever elected president. Theodore Roosevelt was the youngest to become president, but he did so after the duly elected president was assassinated.

When I was a teenager, I remember once, in a magazine supplement to a Sunday newspaper, I read a report about how the presidency was a "man–killing job" that was killing off ex–presidents before their time. It pointed out that most presidents who survived their terms in office lived less than 10 years after leaving the White House.

As I recall, the article only connected the dots but never offered any other evidence to support its conclusion.

At the time that I read the article, though, it made sense to me. Lyndon Johnson had just died a few years earlier at the age of 64. He had only been out of office for four years. Dwight Eisenhower lived into his late 70s, but he only lasted eight years after leaving office and died when I was in elementary school.

But that didn't explain why Herbert Hoover lived for more than three decades after leaving the White House or why Harry Truman — and, after the article was published, Richard Nixon — lived for nearly two decades as an ex–president.

Gerald Ford's post–presidency went on for nearly 30 years, but his presidency was unique. He wasn't subjected to a rigorous national campaign before taking office.

For that matter, Jimmy Carter has lived for 28 years as an ex–president. And, in spite of the fact that he was nearly 78 years old when he left the presidency, Ronald Reagan lived for more than 15 years as a private citizen.

In fact, when you look at the ages of most presidents when they died (excluding those who were assassinated), many lived lives that were easily in line with the life expectancies of others of their generation. Some lived even longer — four of the first six American presidents, all of whom were born in the 18th century, when life expectancies were much shorter than they are today, lived past the age of 80.

So, in hindsight, how can one conclude that the pressures of the presidency kill occupants of the Oval Office before their time — especially since Hoover, Truman, Nixon, Ford and Carter were vilified during their presidencies and, therefore, subjected to particularly high stress levels?

Anyway, what I've been leading up to — in my roundabout way — is that today is George Bush's birthday.

No, not that George Bush. His father, George H.W. Bush, is 85 years old today.

And, as a young man, "41," as he is called, to distinguish him from his son (aka "43"), was a naval aviator who once bailed out of a burning plane during World War II.

I was not one of President Bush's supporters, but I must commend him on many of the things he has done in his post–presidential life. He patched things up with Bill Clinton, the man who beat him in his bid for re–election in 1992, and worked with him on relief efforts for the victims of Hurricane Katrina and the Indian Ocean tsunami. The day before his 80th birthday, he delivered a touching eulogy to the man he served for eight years as vice president, Ronald Reagan.

And today, he marked the occasion of his 85th birthday by skydiving over the coast of Maine.

Obviously, not everyone who reaches that age is able to do something like that. But we'd all like to believe that age alone is not a barrier if we want to do something — whether it's a job or an extracurricular activity.

Whatever one may think of Bush's presidency, he is to be applauded for showing that age is not a barrier, only a number.

1 comment:

del patterson said...

Bush the first. Ok! Happy Birthday. I will honor no criticism on such a day.