Dear Mr. President,
Mr. President, first, congratulations on the strong mid-term showings. We Dems beat all the odds due in part to your campaigning and championing the cause of democracy. You also get kudos for the success you have had in getting significant legislation passed in a divided Congress and a divided country—against all the odds. Yes, I know your approval ratings are low because food and gas cost more, rents are up, the stock market is jittery, and some fear a recession, but you got us through the 2020-2021 covid outbreaks and helped millions of companies and people avoid bankruptcy . You also championed progressive legislation on infrastructure, combating climate change, lowering prescription drug prices, and raising taxes on large corporations. These are huge accomplishments. Unemployment remains at historic lows and wages are up. You have been a world leader in the opposition to Russia in its war on Ukraine. You have restored respect by world leaders for the office of President of the United States.
I know you have a lot on your to-do list to accomplish in the next two years and despite hostile Republican opposition to basically everything you will propose, I am confident that you will continue to move our country forward.
Bottom line, Mr. President, you have been and are a great President. The historians will be kind to you, even if you are not able to get as much done in the next two years. While it is true that you are not the most charismatic President we have ever had, your humility, common decency and ability to relate to the average American are welcomed traits not often found in a President of the United States. Your empathy for those in distress—due in part to the personal losses you have experienced—resonates with others and has helped many who have suffered personal loss. In my book you are a hero.
Now I know that you are contemplating whether you will run for a second term and have hinted that you are going to announce that you will. Mr. President, with respect , I plead to you: Don’t do it. Just say no!
Here is the reason: You are too old. In a couple of weeks you will turn 80. I can say this because we are almost the same age. You were born November 30, 1942. I was born the same year on April 1. I am eight months older.
Anyone our age knows that there are issues associated with old age and aging. When we were born in 1942, our life expectancy was 77. We have outlived more than half the people born that year. I know social class, gender, race and income also affect longevity; and for this reason I note that about two thirds of of my high school and college classmates also have beaten the odds and are still alive. But that does not mean we are in great health. Many of my friends are dealing with serious health issues—like Parkinson’s, cancer, strokes, heart disease, melanoma, and dementia.
Look, I just got a physical this week and I am grateful to report that I am in good health for an 80-year old. I still get in my 15-17 miles of walking (albeit slowly) every week and with one exception (not life threatening), do not have any serious health issues. However, if I am sitting in a low chair or seat with no arms, it is a challenge to get up. My balance is not what it used to be even in my 70s, and there is no way without risking my life that I can manage to climb or descend stairs without hanging onto a railing. I still have my marbles but forget names occasionally that I should remember. Hey, this is normal aging. This is what we octogenarians have to deal with. Certainly, you know what I am talking about. This is the way it works on the planet Earth. We humans—like all animals—have a beginning and an end. For someone in their 80s, the end is getting closer. Sure, you may feel ok now, but things could and often do change in a heartbeat.
The four factors I think that you need to keep in mind as you make your decision to run again are these: energy level, stamina, mental acuity, and judgement. Committing to run again would mean six more years in the hardest and most demanding job on the planet Earth. No former President has been that old or even close to it. If you win the next election and finish out your second term, you will be 86 when it is time to retire. Ask your team of doctors what the chances are that someone who is in pretty good shape for his age at age 80 will sail through until his mid 80s with no changes to overall health and capabilities. I am not a doctor, but I would suggest the answer is zero. Just spend some time at any retirement community and check out how the 70-somethings are doing compared to the 80-somethings. That is the business I was in. Trust me, there is a big difference.
Mr. President, to put yourself through this and to put the country through this as they wonder, as is natural, whether you are still playing with a full deck, just does not make sense. And what about other world leaders as they monitor every move you make and ask the same questions about the leadership ability of someone in his early to mid 80s. It is not fair to yourself or to your country. A statesman—which you are—would say thanks but no thanks. It is time to pass the baton to a younger generation.
Now to put this in perspective, I checked out on the web the ages of the CEOs of the Fortune 500 Companies. Their jobs do not begin to compare to yours in terms of stress, stamina, and the need for good judgement. The average age of a Fortune 500 CEO is 57. Only one is older than you are now—Warren Buffet and that does not really count (He is 91.). Only a handful are over 70. Most retire at age 65, as is required by many companies. The reasons for this I have just spelled out.
And for those who argue that age should not be a factor, I also checked out the life expectancy on the internet of a white male, age 80. The answer is seven years. Hey, some would argue that proves there is no risk associated with serving a second term, right? After serving another four years, you will still have a full year to spare. No problem. Why worry?
There are three other final reasons that you should not run again. The first is that you probably will not win a second term. Now if Trump wins the nomination, which I think is now unlikely, you may have a chance, but God help the country if Trump is the Republican nominee. Your opponent would more likely be DeSantis or perhaps another Ivy League renegade like Cruz or a fake moderate like Youngkin. DeSantis, now considered to be the most likely, is young by comparison (44), smart, vigorous, charismatic, and very conservative though not a total Trump wannabe. DeSantis would likely beat you. So would Youngkin (55) or someone like him. Mr.President, it all has to do with age, not political positions or qualifications. A vigorous candidate in his or her 40s or 50s is very likely to beat an old guy who is in his early 80s unless the younger candidate is a nutcase, which is certainly possible in the Republican Party, but you can’t count on it.
The second reason is that second terms are for most presidents more challenging and less successful than their first. Think about your eight years with Obama. The second term was spent mainly trying to preserve the ACA and putting out fires. George W. had the disastrous Iraq insurgency to deal with. Bill Clinton had his Lewinsky affair. Johnson’s experience with Vietnam was so bad he chose not to run again. Reagan had his Iran-Contra scandal. Lesson learned: quit while you are ahead. If the next two years of your first term are as good as your first two, there will be a favorable place for you in the history books. Don’t risk a second term.
The third and perhaps most important is that it is not fair to your party. It is time for a younger generation to step up to the plate. There are lots of younger, fabulous leaders in the Democratic Party, with intelligence, compassion, good judgement and fire in the belly. They are dedicated to the same progressive ideals that you are. I think of past Presidents like John Kennedy, Obama, Clinton—they were all young when they were first elected and all strong and (for the most part) successful presidents. It is that time again now.
In fact, if you did decide to run, it could have a devastating impact on your party if you were challenged in the primary. Many loyal Democrats feel the same way I do. It could happen.
It is time to pass the baton to a younger generation. It is their turn now. Make it happen, Mr. President. You can do it. I hope and pray you will make the right decision.
If you will indulge my informality, allow me to close with this unsolicited but fundamentally sound advice: Hey, Joe, just say No!
Joseph T. Howell