DETROIT — The age issue was raised obliquely in Vice President Al Gore’s endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, last night.
But it wasn’t Gore overtly dissing McCain’s age or raising the fact that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., would be the oldest person ever first elected president, which polls indicate some voters are concerned about (more so seniors!)
It was Gore defending Obama’s youth (read: inexperience), which our new ABC News/Washington Post poll indicates many voters are concerned about.
In fact, after Gore mentioned "the Republican nominee," which was greeted by a chorus of boos in Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Gore said, “in that case, I’m glad I brought it up because, as Senator Barack Obama has said, John McCain is deserving of that respect. He has demonstrated bravery in war and as a prisoner of war, and has served in the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate for many years. Moreover, he has demonstrated a willingness to debate some critical issues, including the climate crisis that many Republicans have refused to discuss at all.”
“But, even as we acknowledge his long experience,” Gore said, “we must and we will make our case that America simply cannot afford to continue the policies of the last eight years for another four. And we all know that a long tenure in Washington D.C. is not the same as judgment, wisdom and vision.”
“Nevertheless,” the former Vice President continued, “the other party seems to think that age and experience are factors that will work in their favor during this campaign. But…our shared experience as a nation tells us otherwise. I remember when one prominent Republican wondered out loud whether the Democratic nominee, and I quote, ‘really is grown up enough to be president.’ Another used the phrase, quote, ‘naive and inexperienced.’ Yet another said, quote, ‘the United States cannot afford to risk the future of the free world with inexperience and immaturity in the White House,’ end quote.”
Asked Gore, “Who are they talking about? Every single one of those quotations came from the campaign of 1960, when the Republicans attacked John Fitzgerald Kennedy for allegedly lacking the age and experience necessary to be president. Richard Nixon’s slogan in that campaign was ‘experience counts,’ to which John F. Kennedy responded, and I quote, ‘to exclude from positions of trust and command all those below the age of 44, would have kept Jefferson from writing the Declaration of Independence, Washington from commanding the Continental Army, Madison from fathering the Constitution, and Christopher Columbus from even discovering America.’”
But it’s probably worth pointing out that when Kennedy made those comments defending his age, he was defending himself not from Nixon or even the Republicans. He was answering a criticism leveled at him by former President Harry S Truman, a Democrat.
Truman had asked, "Senator, are you certain you are quite ready for the country, or that the country is ready for you in the role of President in January 1961? May I suggest you be patient?"
Truman said Kennedy should "put aside" his ambitions, that Democrats needed a nominee who was "someone with the greatest possible maturity and experience."
That’s what JFK was responding to.