Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Happy 90th Birthday, Jimmy Carter

I have been studying the presidency practically since I learned to read (really), and one of the first things I discovered in my very early studies was that only two American presidents had lived to the age of 90 — John Adams and Herbert Hoover.

They lived in different centuries so there is no way they could have run against each other.

I remember being very sad when Harry Truman died. He was within two years of making it to 90, and I was pulling for him. As a devotee of American presidential trivia, I hoped he would join that exclusive club.

It isn't that exclusive anymore. People live longer now than they used to. Not everyone does, of course, but, by and large, each generation does live longer than the one that came before. And among American presidents, the 90–and–Over Club has now added its sixth member, Jimmy Carter. He was born on Oct. 1, 1924.

Earlier this year, George H.W. Bush celebrated his 90th birthday. The other two men to join that club were Ronald Reagan in 2001 and Gerald Ford in 2003.

Considering how the club has grown, I began thinking about various firsts that these milestone birthdays created. For example, the first election in American history that featured two major party nominees who would both live to be 90 was the 1976 campaign between Carter and Ford. (Ford's running mate, Bob Dole, turned 90 last year, and Carter's running mate, Walter Mondale, is 86. If he lives until January 2018, the '76 campaign will be the first to feature four nominees who all lived to be 90.)

It will always be the first such election because all the major party nominees who preceded Ford and Carter are deceased.

Carter's milestone made him the first president to run against two candidates from the opposing party who both lived to be 90; he beat Ford in '76 and lost to Reagan in '80.

If Mondale lives until January 2018, Reagan will become the second president to run against two nominees from the opposing party who lived to be 90. He will be the first man to run against candidates who were destined to live to 90 in three consecutive elections — he challenged Ford for the Republican nomination in 1976.

We'll have to wait awhile to find out if Bush ran against someone who lived to be 90. The candidate he defeated for the presidency in 1988, Michael Dukakis, is 80 and won't turn 90 until November 2023 — and the candidate who defeated Bush four years later, Bill Clinton, won't turn 90 until 2036.

Of course, if Clinton lives to be 90, the 1996 campaign will join the list of elections that featured nominees who reached the 90th–birthday milestone since Clinton's opponent in that campaign was Bob Dole.

Carter has already set a record for the longest post–presidency — more than 33 years now. He surpassed Hoover in September 2012.

I figure that record is safe. Bush is his nearest competition, and he would have to live another 12 years to claim that record. Of course, if he does, he'll be the first American president who lived to be 100.

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