Analog Candidates For A Digital Age

Let me begin with an admission: I am old. The same age as Bernie Sanders, actually, and just a couple of years older than Joe Biden. I know firsthand that age bestows a number of benefits along with the gray hair and sagging skin: more tolerance for the foibles of others, a broader context within which to analyze thorny issues, greater appreciation for the complexities of the world.

When we are determining which candidate the Democrats should nominate to occupy the Oval Office, however, those benefits must be weighed against some undeniable negatives.

First and foremost is political reality. If a Democrat wins the 2020 election, he or she needs to be seen as a possible– or likely– two-term President. Thanks to Mitch McConnell and the Republican Senate, we have ample evidence that the GOP will do everything in its power to run the clock out on a President in his last–or only–term. (Ask Merrick Garland if you don’t believe me–or look at the overall pathetic performance of Congress in Obama’s last term.) It’s much, much harder to pursue that strategy with someone who is potentially a two-term President.

Someone who assumes office at the age of 78 or 80 is not a two-termer.

Second, the world into which someone was socialized matters. A lot. The reality we occupy growing up shapes us in ways we only dimly recognize. Joe Biden’s hugging and physical demonstrativeness is just one example; I love Biden, and I recognize his behavior as fairly typical of affectionate men of his and my generation. We all grow up unthinkingly accepting the social norms of the world we were born into as “the way it is,” making it very difficult to realize that “the way it is” isn’t anymore.

As a consequence, my generation has difficulty fully understanding and adapting to a world that is profoundly different from the world of our youth, not just because of  generational social change, but because of the way those changes have been magnified and their speed accelerated by the Internet, social media and technology generally.

What younger folks find intuitive is anything but for those of us who grew up with landlines attached to the wall, shelves of encyclopedias for information, and service station attendants who pumped the gas and cleaned our windshields. I’m an example: I am not the Luddite some of my age cohort are–I use an iPhone and laptop, I read on a Kindle, and I review research studies about the sometimes convoluted ways in which technology and social media are constantly changing social norms–but none of this comes easily or naturally, as it so clearly does to my students and grandchildren.

Nor does my understanding go very deep; like most of my generation, I rely on younger people if I need to go beyond superficial knowledge of how it all works.

If Russian bots are exacerbating America’s tribal divisions, those dealing with the problem need to understand what bots are, what they do and how they are deployed. If virtual currencies like Bitcoin are threatening to destabilize global monetary systems, they need to understand how those currencies work, how they are generated and why they have value. And that’s just two examples.

Thirdly, and much as I hate to admit it, age takes an inexorable physical and mental toll. I’m a pretty high energy person, and I am blessed with excellent health. But there is absolutely no way that I could discharge even the purely physical requirements of a job like the Presidency. (My theory is that Trump’s well-documented aversion to actually doing any work is partly due to his age and poor physical condition.) And numerous studies definitively show that on nearly every scale of intellectual capacity, people over 70 have less flexibility and less to offer than younger generations. 

There comes a time when we older folks need to yield power to the next generation. We can still offer our hard-earned wisdom, and we can still play an important advisory role. But existential threats like climate change need to be addressed by those who will live with its effects; racism, sexism and other bigotries can best be dealt with by people who have grown up seeing mothers who are doctors, lawyers and CEOs, and interacting with friends and classmates of many races, religions and sexual identities.

America owes huge debts to Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. We are safer thanks to Biden’s wisdom on foreign policy and exceptional service in the Senate and as Vice-President. Sanders’ 2016 campaign almost single-handedly demonstrated the hollowness of Democrat’s “Republican-lite” policies. His is no longer a lone voice–virtually every Democratic Presidential candidate in 2020 has adopted his progressive perspectives on healthcare and economic fairness.

That said, it’s time for the party’s elders to step back and give day-to-day management of government to a new generation. Fortunately, the Democratic Party–unlike the GOP– has an exceptional young bench.

To coin a phrase: it’s time for a (generational) change.


  1. I completely agree that it’s time for a change. I respect Biden and Sanders, but the thought of either one becoming president worries me. My larger fear is that the machine of the Democratic Party can’t seem to let go of the power and let the younger generation lead. The debacle that was the 2016 election showed that the party leaders would scheme and manipulate to keep a clearly unpopular candidate.

    Can the Democratic Party move to the more progressive policy ideas of the younger members of the party and support a candidate that truly has what it takes to help the nation, or will they only think in terms of finding a household name to beat Trump? Sadly, if history is any indication, they will choose the latter. It would be a plan that would almost surely send Trump back to the White House for another four years.

  2. Read the first 100 pages of Robert Caro’s “Master of the Senate” to see the disaster of old, really old Senators holding onto power to the detriment of social progress. Pelosi and Schumer must accept the facts as Sheila has clearly stated, indeed the DNC must lead the way.

  3. “To coin a phrase: it’s time for a (generational) change.”

    The above comment is correct…to a point. Who among the growing list of new generation Democratic presidential wannabes has the experience, knowledge and wisdom (and there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom) to use the advantage of their awareness of “those who will live with its effects; racism, sexism and other bigotries” and the many existential threats we are faced with daily? Admittedly; Joe and Bernie’s age is a detriment on the one hand (their remaining life-span and that gray hair, sagging skin and learned tolerance) but brings with it benefits the newer generation will not possess until they have the advantage of wisdom that comes with experience and age.

    “There comes a time when we older folks need to yield power to the next generation. We can still offer our hard-earned wisdom, and we can still play an important advisory role.”

    The above is basic within the Democratic party and its staunch supporters but it is the advantage of total power the older generation of the Republican party has and refuses to relinquish; instead they have unleashed the hatred, racism and bigotry of the younger generation of Republicans to turn it loose on this country. Bringing us to a standstill or moving us backward to the early 20th Century which the current Democratic party must again drag us back into the 21st Century…IF we can win the 2020 election. Will this younger generation of Democratic presidential wannabes listen to and use what our generation has to offer?

  4. I totally agree with your writings today, Sheila. I will add only that there is a big difference between a person who has had a lot of life experiences and thinks they have wisdom and a person who has actually learned from their life experiences even if they be few.

  5. This is where the selection of a VP is crucial for Bernie. He has incredible energy himself but eight years might take its toll. I’d like to see Warren or Gabbard, preferably, Tulsi as his running mate.

    As others have already noted, the DNC is the problem. Their leadership/donors don’t accept progressive ideas. Schumer and Pelosi are great examples. We wanted Nancy to step down as speaker but she refused. She cut a deal with the GOP reps so she could stay on as speaker. 🙁

    So, let’s not focus on Bernie’s revolution. Let’s focus on existing leadership within the DNC and Congress/Senate. Those are the dinosaurs who applauded for Trump’s declaration that the USA will never be a socialist country. No, but it will shift from an Oligarchy to a Democracy and they won’t like it and either will their Oligarchic donors.

    It’s called democratic socialism.

  6. Amen. Ditto. Felt that way last Presidential election also. Sanders and Biden …. it’s time to be mentors. Me, I’m 76 …. healthy, vital and active.

  7. I agree that it’s time for a younger candidate to become both the face of the Democratic party and the President. But there is another point in today’s blog that I would like to address. I would like to ask the youngsters out there to stop applying current mores to everyone and everything. The latest victim of historical outrage is Kate Smith. Yes, she probably was a bigot viewed by today’s standards. When she was alive, she was just like most of the white women of her time.

    We have to allow for an evolution of thought. We shouldn’t white-wash the past, as those who would have us remove the “n-word” from “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” seem to want. We have to face reality and accept that reality isn’t always pretty. It simply is what it is. Learn to apply context.

  8. While not a contemporary of Adam, I am older than Sheila and anyone she refers to today and like to think that I am a realist. Of course we are going to have to yield the reins of the party to the younger set – we have no choice – and to stubbornly hang on to the vestiges of political power because we can amounts to political suicide. We constantly hear of how nomination of an old candidate will insure Trump’s reelection, but I here note that Trump is no spring chicken, either, and that independents are aware of his aging factor as well.

    There are better reasons to yield the political reins to those younger than employment of such a fear factor. It’s their world; they and theirs will have to live in the financial, environmental and
    political jungle we have bequeathed to them. They will have to deal with tomorrow’s Putins and Kims, a capitalism run amok, acidic oceans etc. since we will not be around, so it’s time for them to begin amassing the wisdom we did through experience (wisdom being a relative term).

    We are already seeing a reaction of young Democrats to the excesses of capitalism and having new ideas in governing by such as AOC etc., and I find myself attracted to such political views even though a veteran of The Great Depression, WW II, the Marshall Plan, the Berlin Airlift, the end of the New Deal via the Reagan disaster, and other such experiences that have shaped and informed my liberal politics. I when younger reacted to such experiences by becoming a fervent New Dealer, so I am not surprised that younger Democrats today are reacting to the experiences they are having in their contemporary political lives which will inform their politics.

    We elders should offer our advice and encouragement to younger Democratic leaders but step aside at the leadership level, perhaps beginning with our choice for president in 2020, but that said, I remain a Warren aficionado at this juncture and have her bumper sticker slightly to the left of center on my Chevrolet’s bumper (which I think defines my political position on the spectrum). I finally think that handing over the reins of the party to the younger is a housekeeping rather than a political exercise, and should be done with a view toward the possibility of their enjoying a better world than the one we have today, “their” including our own progeny.

  9. “We have to allow for an evolution of thought. We shouldn’t white-wash the past, as those who would have us remove the “n-word” from “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” seem to want.”

    Peggy; thank you for the comments above, and add the removal of “To Kill A Mockingbird” from school reading lists and library shelves. As totally offensive as the “n-word” is to blacks and thinking whites; how will the younger generations (black and white) see and hear how it was (and is) used to give them full understanding of the reality of the past in this country? And recognize the emergence of racism and bigotry supported today by Trump & Co.? The sequel “Go Set A Watchman” to “To Kill A Mockingbird” (which was written first but only published recently) shows a different morality regarding Atticus Finch’s defense of Tom, a truly surprise ending.

  10. This edition is quite an interesting personal perspective, professor. However, age is not the determining factor of the future Democratic nominee for President. No, madam. I want ANYONE who beat Trump. I don’t care what their gender is, or how tall they might be, or what their age is. I simply want to have a President who can better represent our national interests on the international stage as well as a President who has some ethical standards by which she or he governs their actions. I want a President who is smart, who reads, and one who is still a learner. I want a President who can say the hard thing to us so that we become the best world possible. I want a President who can synthesize complex analysis with lighting speed for future conflicts will require quick action. How do I judge these unknown qualities? I look a President who holds fidelity with his or her life partner. I look for a President who willingly is transparent in their finances. I look for a President who has longtime friendships, too. It helps me to know our President has some understanding of the public role of faith too. He or she does not have to have my brand of religion, but I hope they have a good understanding of all major faiths. Is this person among the current gaggle of Presidental hopefuls? I can only hope.

  11. Peggy, Kate Smith could belt out “God Bless America” admirably but I can’t remember much else.

    Today there are truly great singers whose popularity does not depend on the backdrop of world-wide war.

  12. William – I agree that age of the candidate should not necessarily be a factor in beating Trump (if he is the Republican candidate), but the topic for today (turning over the party leadership to the younger) is not a political but rather a housekeeping matter. Few (other than perhaps Sheila) want to remove Trump from the Oval Office more than I, but I think we can and indeed must walk and chew gum at the same time. Let’s do both.

  13. I will remain a Bernie Bot as a first choice, with Elizabeth Warren second and Tulsi Gabbard a third. In the case of Sanders and Warren we have two candidates that have demonstrated their commitment to Democratic Socialism. Gabbard has shown a willingness to step up and challenge the Military-Industrial Complex (War Machine).

    Sanders and Warren support Medicare for All – Single Payer-Universal Health Care. Some of the other as expected are vacillating on this as the Corporate For Profit Forces muster their counter attacks against Medicare for All.

    I do not see anyway other then age you can place Biden and Bernie in the same basket. Biden like Pelosi and Schumer are corporate Neo-Liberal Democrats dedicated to serving Wall Street.

  14. We need a healer. We need a president we can trust. Age does not enter in to my consideration.

  15. Whoever the Democrats nominate must WIN! AND, that candidate must have LONG coattails to overcome the terribly gerrymandered states and oust Republicans at every level, most especially in the U.S. Senate. Mitch McConnell must be defeated and sent back to his Daripaska farm in Kentucky. THEN the fixing can begin.

    Biden for Sec. State. Warren for Sec. Treasury. Sanders for Sec. HUD. Gabbert for U.N. That should be a good start.

  16. Here is interesting tidbit from the BBC.

    Ukrainians are heading to the polls in a run-off election to pick the country’s next president.

    Voters face a stark choice between tycoon Petro Poroshenko, the incumbent president, and television comedian Volodymyr Zelensky, new to politics.

    The TV celebrity is favorite in the polls, having dominated the first round of voting three weeks ago when 39 candidates were on the ticket.

    President Poroshenko has repeatedly stressed the need for someone with political experience.

    Unfortunately for him, all the surveys show that Ukrainians are fed up their politicians who are widely regarded as corrupt and in the pockets of rich oligarchs.
    Americans are also fed up with politicians who are widely regarded as corrupt and in the pockets of rich oligarchs (the 1% and Wall Street). Candidate President Agent Orange sold himself as an outsider, he has revealed himself to be a corrupt oligarch.

    The British are also struggling with the aftermath of the Brexit vote.

  17. I have come around to being more willing to turn over the reins to a younger generation. Pete Buttigieg brought the argument home for me – more along the lines of they are going to be the ones dealing with climate change, etc. and they need to be at the table (my words, not his… but the general idea).

    I think it’s important to keep in mind that our party is not as young, not as educated, and not as far left as we might think. The energy is with the younger, more progressive part of the party. The votes are with the older and more to the center. Young people still don’t vote – and although democracy isn’t limited to the ballot box, it is where the rubber meets the road. If our candidate can’t win a general election, it doesn’t matter what his or her polices are.

    Young people want things to change yesterday – and that energy is a good thing. But something that we learn as we get older is that change takes time.

    I agree with Sharon Mills that we need a healer. We need someone who can be a good leader, as well as defeat Trump. I’m willing to go with someone much younger – and a very compelling argument was just made for someone who can complete two terms.

  18. Vern – I like your cabinet choices but would prefer Bernie as Secretary of Labor and some career diplomat at UN rather than Gabbert. I am also torn over having Warren at Treasury rather than end all the good she could do by remaining in the Senate. However, if she is to accept appointment to any cabinet position, Treasury is the one that fits her passions best. All of these suggested appointments assume those appointed will have lost in the presidential sweepstakes, of course, and to that end I have another suggested appointment > that Mayor Pete in view of his turnaround of South Bend’s housing problems accede to Secretary of HUD, another good fit.

  19. I have to disagree with some of the comments about Pelosi. I think that she’s been quite effective as Speaker – and it’s primarily because of her age and experience. She is absolutely right that most districts don’t look like AOC’s. In my view, she was the right person for that job at that time.

    There will be a time for Pelosi to turn things over. For right now, I have a lot of respect for the jobs she’s doing.

  20. Kurt – I agree. Pelosi’s job would create static if she were Mary the Mother. Leaders of all are always subject to attack by some. I think that under the circumstances she is doing a commendable job. I understand that many want to go after Trump yesterday and that there are risks in allowing him to stay in office, but I think we have to make a judgment on the harm he can do versus better evidence for his impeachment, and more specifically, the financial and tax frauds I am sure he has committed and is committing, money laundering, real estate sales to shell corporations owned by foreigners, and other such shenanigans that were not covered in Mueller’s mandate to investigate Russian meddling in our election(s). The evidence isn’t all in yet, but when it is I think public outrage may (I hope) bring Republican senators to join Democrats in convicting him and removing him from office after the House impeaches. The good thing about constitutional impeachment and removal is that it is not subject to judicial intervention. When the Senate convicts that’s it. We Democrats do not argue that he should not be impeached and removed from office; far from it, our dispute goes to timing.

  21. Or, as Tennyson observed:
    – you and I are old;
    Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
    Death closes all: but something ere the end,
    Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
    Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
    The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
    The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
    Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
    ‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
    Push off, and sitting well in order smite
    The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
    To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
    Of all the western stars, until I die.
    It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
    It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
    And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
    Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
    We are not now that strength which in old days
    Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
    One equal temper of heroic hearts,
    Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
    To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

  22. I have absolutely no argument with your thoughts. The world is moving beyond all of us, it belongs to a new generation – but we must be sure in that choice that it is someone learned, concerned and with integrity, perhaps we can find such – I have seen of recent a great deal of young Women that are not taking ‘know your place’ for any kind of answer. They have alternatives few if any have ever presented. The Elders try to keep up – but personally, it is vanilla, it is old, it is OLD. Perhaps we should consider the fact that testosterone in over-abundance has only gotten us into trouble, we need to do away with the Viagra crowd… Let’s give the other half a chance for once, and with more youth and vigor than us oldies!

  23. Gerald,

    Good suggestions. We should pick Kamala Harris’s cabinet for her. LOL.

  24. I have been plugged into Shiela’s blog by my daughter. Not only is it such a meaty school for thought, the commentary is enlightening, as well. I will be enjoying getting into the thinking that’s exhibited here. Thanks so much.

  25. I had coffee this morning with a young man — 30s — who has a young brood of children, the youngest is nine. He thinks like so many of you. He has decided to turn over family leadership to the nine-year-old, because she and her siblings are the ones who have to live with the future that her decisions will shape. Brilliant!

    I thought about that all day, along with comments I read here. I decided I’m not happy about my grandkids having to live in a society engineered by some 40 something dude, because a bunch of thoughtless people imagined that the time had come to be led by someone cool. Being up to date on who the latest rock star is, or the newest ap for a phone, or what brand underwear is popular, or having the vocabulary of a Valley girl or computer geek does not make young candidates capable of determining the world my grandkids will live in.

    If I had my way, no one under 60 would be allowed to vote, hold an office, own a gun, get married, be a soldier or have children.

    Furthermore, I snicker at the idea proposed repeatedly in this blog that energy is superior to wisdom. It may be true for rock stars, but it isn’t true for presidents.

    You lost this game big-time today, but don’t get too down on yourself. Just put it out of your mind and start fresh tomorrow. In the games of philosophy and politics and campaigns, it is just as important as it is in big time sports to have a short memory.

  26. Some people at 37 are more mature, well read and comfortable with accountability than others are at 73.

    The most reliable voters are those over 55. I’m one of them, and most everyone I know who’s retired says the same thing as you Sheila. They know their own memory and energy are not up to the same old rigors. That’s why they retired, and that’s why they don’t want to vote for someone as old as they are. It’s not just a preference. It’s a political reality. As one who opposes age discrimination, that distresses me, though the presidency is not just any job. However, if the contest is between two old men, I’ll vote for the one who’s NOT TRUMP.

  27. A final thought from me on this: I think the argument for a two-term president is spot on.
    I think the argument about a world-view shaped by what was happening many decades ago –which may no longer be completely relevant has some merit.

    But most leaders don’t know everything about everything — they don’t have to have a deep understanding of bitcoin, cyber-security, or military strategy, for example. What they need to do is surround themselves with experts who do know these things.

    Good leaders get the best and brightest to advise them and create an atmosphere that allows space for debate and different viewpoints.

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