President Bush's 60th Birthday: The Historic Significance of a Milestone

ByABC News

July 4, 2006 — -- On July 6, President Bush reaches a personal milestone and turns 60 years old. But the president celebrated a bit early, on Tuesday, July 4, with a small private party of family and friends at the White House. ABC reports it was a casual affair, with the president wearing a red and white short sleeved Hawaiian shirt and dining on fried chicken, cajun shrimp, biscuits, salads and a three-tier chocolate cake that included a repica White House on the cake. After dinner, the guests watched the Independence Day fireworks from the Truman balcony.

We turned to one of our own experts, ABC News political analyst Cokie Roberts, to reflect on presidential birthdays and the Fourth of July, .

Besides covering politics and public policy for 30 years, Roberts has written several books, including "Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation." ABC News' Sara Just spoke to Roberts on July 3, from her home in Bethesda, Md.:

Sara Just: President Bush turns 60 this week. How does this age fit into the age of presidents in history, especially the earliest presidents?

Cokie Roberts: It's really interesting. I went back to look because of President Bush's birthday and discovered that almost all our early presidents -- the presidents of the founding era as we consider them -- turned 60 in office. The one exception was John Adams who was 61 when he was elected. But George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe and John Quincy Adams all turned 60 in office. And of course 60 in that era was very old. The lifespan was nowhere near as long as it is now. But with the exception of Washington -- who died soon after he left office -- he died in 1799 age 67 -- the others lived to ripe-long old ages. James Monroe died at 73. But the others lived to 90, 80, 86 -- very long times, particular for the late 1830s, early 19th century.

Just: And you mentioned earlier that several presidents had died on a particularly interesting day?

Roberts: It has been so fascinating. This is one of those little quirks of history that people who love this period always talk about, which is that John Adams and Thomas Jefferson -- who had been great friends, had worked together to write the Declaration of Independence but then became partisan, bitter partisan enemies -- ended up at the end of their lives back into a kind of wary friendship through the mail. And they both died on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1826. Adams is supposed to have said as his last words, "And still Jefferson lives." But Jefferson had in fact died that morning.

James Monroe also died on July 4. As I recall, it was the 55th anniversary of the Declaration and James Madison was lingering in June. And the doctors were trying to keep him alive until July 4, 1836, and he had the good grace to say, "That's ridiculous; let me go when it's time to go." And I can't remember [if] it was late June or early July.

Just: Wise man. And who were our oldest presidents?

Roberts: The oldest [president] was Ronald Reagan, something we were well aware of at the time that he was running. He, of course, turned the age issue around, particularly in his second campaign. When he was, I guess by that time 73, and Walter Mondale alluded to his age and he joked and said, "I will not hold the youth and inexperience of my opponent against him" and just defused the issue immediately. But he was only older than a year -- he was 69 when he was elected -- only a year older than William Henry Harrison, who was elected at [age] 68, and famously died 30 days later because he went to his inaugural in an overcoat.

Just: Let's get back to the present day for a minute. George Bush turning 60 seems to mark a significant moment for the baby boom generation.

Roberts: Absolutely. These are the baby boomers that we pretty much mark from 1946 to 1964, and George Bush is right at the vanguard there turning 60, along with others of his ilk. Bill Clinton will be 60 in August. And it is really the beginning of an era where we will see our country aging, the percentage of people aging in our country who are 60 and older going up exponentially in the next few years. And I have to say, Sara, as someone who is 62 myself, I love the saying that 60 is the new 40.

Just: Absolutely. And is there any sign that President Bush is turning his political attentions to issues concerning senior citizens now that he is turning 60?

Roberts: It is always enlightened self-interest to be for any programs for senior citizens. But for politicians it's self-interest anyway because, of course, senior citizens are the most active element in our society. And I must say in this week -- when we're celebrating our independence and our country's birthday -- that is something people really do not think about enough. We talk a lot -- and we should -- about money in Washington and influence peddling. But the truth is, by far, the most influential lobbying group in this city is the senior citizens' group. And these are not big donators. Senior citizens tend to be a little tight with their money, but they vote. And they vote in huge percentages, and it means they have a tremendous impact. And so, if other people in the society want to have that kind of impact, they can get out there and vote.

Just: Thank you, Cokie. And Happy Independence Day to you.

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