I DO NOT accept the argument which suggests that there should be a perpetual adversarial relationship between youth leadership and senior leadership. Like the African proverb, ‘young men for war, old men for counsel’, it ought to be a symbiotic relationship. The energy, innovation and adventure of youth have their benefits and their disadvantages. Conversely, the wisdom, experience and foresight of senior leaders are oftentimes indispensable.
However, it is important that no amount of succor is given to the argumentation that youth is the only basis on which a credible claim to accede to the Presidency is made. At any stage of a leader’s existence, character and the virtues of leadership are still very important and cannot be subtracted from the conversation. Insofar as a candidate has the energy to lead the people and carries the aspirations of his followers, being advanced in age should have zero consideration.
AGE AND THE PRESIDENCY
The oldest known law, I have discovered, passed on the minimum requirement on age when attempting to hold public office is the Roman law, Lex Villia Annalis which stipulated several years of experience in various fields. Once the years of experience requirements were met, invariably, it resulted in the minimum limit being not below age 35. As stipulated by this law in the Roman Republic, it was 36 years to qualify for Aedileship (elected office in the Roman Republic), 39 years to qualify for Praetorship (Commander of an Army or Magistrate) and 42 years to qualify for Consulship (the highest elected political office in the Roman Republic).
This law prevented youthful candidates from dominating public offices but what undergirded the passage of such laws was the point that there is much more to leadership than solely juvenescence. Today, the constitutions of major global players have followed the same legislative thrust of the aforementioned. The US Constitution stipulates that you must be 35 to run for the President, the Constitution of Brazil (Article 14, Section 3 (VI)) defines 35 years as the minimum age someone can be President, in Germany, the minimum age to be Chancellor is 40 and China’s minimum age to be President is 45.
It must be noted, countries such as Australia, Canada and France have set an age limit to ascend to the highest office in those countries at 18. It is reasonable to deduce that the framers of such legislation which requires minimum age limits were of the view that youth cannot be the only qualification for the Presidency. Compassion, courage, service, honesty, persistence, humility, selflessness, hope, vision, experience and above all, integrity, are key.
Aspirations of the people and Age
Currently, the Democratic Party of the United States of America is in the process of choosing its Presidential Candidate for national elections in 2020. Despite the US having 21.1 million people between the ages 19-21 and notwithstanding the fact that the 2020 Democratic Party presidential primary field includes youthful candidates such as Pete Buttigieg (37), Tulsi Gabbard (38), Eric Swalwell (38), Andrew Yang (44), Julian Castro (45) and Beto O’Rourke (47), the older candidates such as Bernie Sanders (78), Joe Biden (76) and Elizabeth Warren (70) have emerged as the front runners. It is evident, the US 2020 Democratic Party Presidential primaries are providing another stark reminder that once the aspirations of the people reside in a leader’s policies and character, there is little hesitancy of support for candidates who are advanced in age.
I suspect, two key reasons Elizabeth Warren (70) is emerging as the frontrunner is her plan for health care and her ability to stick to her word and to be consistent in her public posturing. In explaining her reason for endorsing Bernie Sanders (78), Representative Alexander Ocasio-Cortez (30), one of the Democratic Party’s hottest youth prospect, remarked ‘it was a recognition that Sanders is the only candidate in the field who has been fighting consistently for working people for decades, making him the ideal leader of multiracial, working-class movement’. The point is made, sometimes candidates represent something that completely dwarfs or eclipses high consideration of how advanced they might be in age.
Good leadership is not guaranteed by youth
The orbit or sphere of modern and past Presidential leadership is replete with a treasure trove of examples across various epochs, demonstrate that youthful leadership does not automatically translate into good leadership. Louis XVI (1774-1792) of France who became king at age 21 and presided over one of the most destructive rules from the throne in history. Jean Claude Duvalier became the President of Haiti at age 19 and reigned Presidential terror on the people of that French-speaking island. Kim Jong Un became the Supreme Leader of North Korea at the relatively tender age of 30 and immediately surpassed all his predecessors in his scale of brutality and bad rule. The list of these examples is infinite. It is for this reason and others mentioned above, one cannot stake a credible claim to the Presidency solely on the basis that he/she is a youth.