RONALD REAGAN doesn't have "senior advisers." He has pollsters and strategists, managers and aides--but he is older than all of them. His age could be an advantage if he were campaigning for induction into the Hall of Fame, but it should be critically questioned in his bid for the presidency.
Reagan's opponents and the press term him a conservative ideologue. They readily discuss his pronuclear stance, his attitude toward the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT II) and his programs to end inflation. But they remain strangely silent about his age. The Republican debate in Iowa produced jokes and jabs about his age, but the participants never seriously addressed the possibility of a 70-year-old president. Reagan's age should be as critical a factor in his candidacy as his suggestions about American foreign policy.
Republican candidates most likely believe that questioning Reagan's age can only damage their own campaigns; the voters would label them discriminatory and narrow-minded. More importantly, the candidates fear losing the support of the elderly, whose votes carry great weight in critical states like New York and Florida. But this fear may be misplaced.
If anyone understands the difficulties of becoming old, it is the elderly. They have watched President Carter, a man 15 years Reagan's junior, age visibly during his term as president, and they will be the first to doubt that a 70-year-old Ronald Reagan could handle the stresses of the office.
There are, of course, many statesmen who have served in political office into old age. Sen. Jacob K. Javits (R-N.Y.) and Sam Ervin from North Carolina have performed effectively and inspiringly for years. But neither was president. There are 100 senators, and if one should become incapacitated in office, Congressional affairs would not slow down noticeably. But there is only one president.
IN THE 1980s, presidential advisers will make a majority of high-level decisions because of the sheer bulk and variety of demands facing the chief executive. An incapacitated president would burden top officials with a larger number of policy decisions, and there is a real chance that this might happen during a Reagan administration. Electing Reagan means electing a collection of administrators.
With the questions of leadership ability so prevalent in this campaign, it is surprising that so few politicians or journalists have discussed the potential problems of having a 70-year-old president. Reagan's opponents should questions repeatedly his ability to govern at age 70 until they receive a satisfactory response. Silence about his age is more than merely a political oversight; it is irresponsible.