Column: Too old to rule? Only if you drool

Fidel Castro ruled Cuba for almost 50 years, but the 81-year-old is ailing, so it’s not surprisingMccain
that the presidency of the country has been officially passed to his youthful brother Raul, who is only 76.

Raul’s top vice president, Jose Ramon Machado, is young too. The revolutionary leader is only 77. The other five vice presidents are 56, 80, 68, 63 and 71. If you’re good at math, you’ve already figured out that the average age of Cuba’s top seven leaders is 70. And you’ve also realized that there must be something wrong with a political system that doesn’t give opportunities to people in their late eighties and nineties.

If you’re 93 and want to hold a top political post, you should be given a chance. I say this because one of my readers, Ernestine "Ernie" Stripe, is 93 and she would make a fine Cuban vice president.  (If you’re reading this Raul, please appoint Ernie as one of your vice presidents, so people do not accuse you of age discrimination.)

Just because you’re old, it doesn’t mean you can’t be a good leader. Old people have a lot of wisdom and they also have lots of experience doing what politicians do the most: sitting around and talking. They’re also good at shaking hands and waving.

If you don’t think those are important skills, you probably don’t
follow politics closely. You probably didn’t pay attention to President
Bush’s recent trip to Africa, in which he and several other presidents
did a whole lot of "sitting around and talking." In Tanzania, for
example, Bush sat around and talked to President Jakaya Kikwete.

Kikwete: "Welcome to Tanzania, President Bush."

Bush: "Thank you, President Kikwete. Things have changed a lot since the last time I was in West Africa."

Kikwete: "Yes, things have changed in East Africa too."

Bush: "I’m pleased to hear that. I will be going there next."

Kikwete: "I have some gifts for you, specially from our country: a stuffed leopard and lion, and a zebra skin."

Bush: "Thank you. I have a gift for you, specially from our country: a pair of Shaquille O’Neal basketball shoes."

Kikwete: "Thank you. They will be a good addition to my house."

Bush: "Yes, I suppose so. But don’t you already have enough guest rooms?"

As you can see, Bush is getting good at this. He has seven years of
experience. At 61, he’s at an age where he can keep a conversation
going with anyone, even himself. Just imagine how good he’ll be in 20
years. But instead of bringing his wise leadership to America, he’ll be
bringing it to the Crawford, Texas, Shuffleboard Team.

Even at 81, Bush would be younger than one of the most successful
leaders in Canada: Hazel McCallion. She’s 87 and is serving her 11th
consecutive term as mayor of Mississauga, Ontario. Forget the rocking
chair, she’s got city councilors to scare.

My motherland, India, loves old politicians. The current president, Pratibha
Patil, is 72. The previous four presidents, Abdul Kalam, K.R. Narayanan,
S.D. Sharma and R. Venkataraman, were 70, 76, 73 and 76 respectively. Dr.
Kalam was the youngster of the bunch, barely making the cut. Had he been
69, we would have known him as just another eccentric scientist.

Let’s face it: Age is just a number. At least that’s what Mick Jagger says to all the schoolgirls.

Age is often an asset, not a handicap. John McCain, the Republican
Party’s presidential nominee, is 71  years old and has been through a
lot in his life, including being a prisoner of war. That’s got to be a major

Don’t tell me he’s too old to be president. If anything, he might be too young.

Photo by Marcn

If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through and You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.


  1. Rob Rachlin says:

    I completely agree with you that age is an asset for politicians. The older they get, the easier it is for them to forget what they said yesterday so that they can say the exact opposite today, without suffering any pangs of conscience. Of course, that’s not all that important, since many of them were apparently born without a conscience anyway….
    (submitted by email)

  2. Here are some stats:
    – A 1968 publication, “Middle Age and Aging: A Reader in Social Psychology” by Bernice Levin Neugarten, lists the average age of Senators in 1962 as 58 years. The same book also mentions that with every decade, there’s a significant jump in this average.
    – Similarly, the New York Times reported that the median age of American has increased due to “Longer life spans and relatively low birth rates”.
    It is only a matter of time before the Republicans stop getting ribbed for having an experienced, aging representative in the forefront and face an equally aged Democrat to fight against. For all we know, the ‘Universal Healthcare Plan’, a main point of debate, if implemented successfully may be the cause for all the age factor. Then again, Old Rubber Lips is correct. What’s age but a number!

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