Jewish World Review August 4, 2000 / 3 Menachem-Av, 5760
Cheney, Abe Lincoln
and Ricky Martin -- do
they add up?
"BY SELECTING Dick Cheney as his vice presidential
running mate," the renowned national television
news commentator intoned last week, "George W.
Bush has made a point of choosing a man 10 or 12
years older than he is."
This was a highly symbolic move, the commentator
said: Cheney "is a contemporary of [George W.
Bush's] father," and by selecting a running mate
approximately the same age as former president
Bush, his son had sent a
deference-to-an-older-generation message to the
Well . . . George W. Bush is 54 years old. Dick
Cheney, far from being 10 or 12 years older, is 59.
A "contemporary" of former president Bush? The
former president is 76.
Cheney may look far older than George W., but he
isn't; his service in the administration of George
W.'s father may endear him to the Bush family, but
as far as chronological age, Cheney and his former
boss aren't even close.
What is interesting about this is the obsession with
age. George W., whatever else you may think of
him, looks great -- any 54-year-old man would be
grateful to look like the Republican
nominee. Dick Cheney looks all of 59; chances are
that when George W. reaches the age of 59, he'll
still look like he's in his early 40s (although, as far
as keeping his youthful appearance, he'd be better
off to lose in November; presidents get old very
All of this has to do with the much-overused word
"gravitas." It means (at least in the context of this
election year) the quality of seriousness, the air of
experience, the weight of somberness and
anti-frivolity. George W. Bush, many say, lacks
gravitas; Dick Cheney oozes it.
And it helps that, at 59, Cheney could pass for 70.
If he had exactly the same amount of governmental
experience, exactly the same biography that he
does now, but he somehow looked like Ricky
Martin, he would be less valuable to the Republican
ticket. Conversely, Al Gore is chock-full of gravitas
-- he may be the gravitasiest politician on the
current Washington scene -- but he's only 52.
Stylistic stiffness aside, Gore might be in better
shape in the polls if he was exactly the same man he
is now, but looked like Cheney.
As for young George W. Bush -- is he really that
young? Fifty-four is a pretty good age for a
president, but the fact that Bush the younger
represents a purported youth movement in national
politics ignores the fact that the deeply experienced
two-term departing president he seeks to replace
-- Bill Clinton -- is 53.
What Americans consider a desirable age for
presidents -- and what they consider to be
youthfulness -- appears to be a malleable concept.
George W. might or might not represent a breath of
fresh air in the Oval Office -- but how old do you
think Franklin D. Roosevelt was when he took over
the job? Talk about gravitas. He was 51 when be
became president -- three years younger than
George W. Bush.
And Cheney, the alleged old guy? He's two years
younger than Gerald Ford was
when be became president.
Presidential youthfulness is in the eye of the
beholder. Who's the oldest-seeming president you
can think of? Woodrow Wilson comes to mind.
Now there was a man who seemed older than old.
But he was 56 when he became president -- three
years younger than Dick Cheney, only two years
older than George W.
Fifty-seven when he became president: George
Washington. There's a number that will give
comfort to those who want to portray Dick Cheney
as an old coot, and will also please those who want
to make the argument that Cheney isn't so old after
all. Dick Cheney is two years older than President
George Washington was when he got the job.
But . . . Cheney is five years younger than the first
George Bush was when he became president;
President Bush started the job at 64. And Cheney
is three years younger than Dwight Eisenhower was
-- Ike was 62 when he and Mamie moved to
One more thought with which to leave you today.
Both George W. Bush, at 54, and Dick Cheney, at
59, are older than another fellow who has never
exactly been thought of as a presidential spring
Abraham Lincoln was 52 when he got the job.
Where were we?
Oh. Yes. Dick Cheney is not, national news
commentary to the contrary, a contemporary of
George W. Bush's
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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