Hillary Clinton: Is age talk sexist?

Hillary Clinton speaks at Georgetown University on 25 February, 2014. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption In 2016, Hillary Clinton will turn 69, younger than many recent Republican presidential candidates

Ronald Reagan was 73 when he successfully ran for re-election in 1984. Bob Dole was 73 during his 1996 bid for the top office. John McCain was 71 when he ran in 2008. In 2016 Hillary Clinton will be 69.

Would she be too old to run for president? Is it sexist to ask such a question?

Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh doesn't think so.

"Do the American people want to observe the ageing of this woman in office?" Rush Limbaugh asked, while displaying a less than flattering photograph of the former secretary of state.

Past and possibly future Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee (who turns 61 in 2016) also has no problem with the age talk. "She's going to be at an age where it's going to be a challenge for her," he told Fox News host Bill O'Reilly.

National Journal's electoral analyst Charlie Cook thinks it's an issue worth considering.

Mrs Clinton "would have to think long and hard as to whether she is physically up to the rigors of running and serving in office", he writes.

Her age may also present a potential obstacle when she tries to connect to a younger electorate, he argues, such as "the challenge of a 68-going-on-69-year-old going after a considerably younger electorate, particularly in the primaries, and how to make herself more relevant to the future, rather than to the past".

He continues:

Running on how great the economy was in the mid-to-late '90s, when her husband was president, would be tantamount to a sequel of Back to the Future. Clinton needs to lay out a rationale for her relevance to the future electorate of a rapidly changing country.

Syndicated columnist Froma Harrop says Cook "ventured over the sexism line" with his column. She notes that he mentions Vice-President Joe Biden among some of Mrs Clinton's potential challengers but neglects to point out that he will be 73, four years older than the former secretary of state, in 2016.

"Both men and women face age discrimination, but it's no secret that, for women, ageism mixes easily with sexism," she writes. "And obsessing over a woman's year of birth is often a slightly more respectable substitute for the latter."

Cook, in a follow-up column, countered:

Biden wasn't brought up in that piece because the column was not about the vice-president. The age issue is obviously one that will confront Biden, and his potential candidacy even more - notably, he is almost five years older than Clinton.

Fox media analyst Howard Kurtz contends that the lack of talk about Mr Biden is because everyone is assuming Mrs Clinton will be the nominee.

"That would change in a heartbeat if she doesn't run, or in the unlikely event that the vice-president challenges her," he writes.

But then what about former Republican nominee Mitt Romney? No one is talking about his age - but he is seven months older than Mrs Clinton.*

"The former Massachusetts governor remains a vigorous man, and if he wanted to run again, why would his vintage be an issue?" Harrop writes.

"The mission here is not to organize a brass band to follow another 'Clinton for President' parade, which, one must note, Clinton has not yet committed herself to lead," Harrop concludes. "Other worthy candidates may well join the race. The mission is to ensure that questions on politicians' ages be divided equally among the genders. Not doing so is worse than unfair."

Kurtz thinks there may be another strategy behind talk of Mrs Clinton's age.

"If Clinton's detractors aggressively push the age issue, it could backfire big time," he writes. "But some of them are clearly trying to send another message: that whatever her chronological age, Hillary and her husband have been around forever and they are old news."

OK, so all the talk about Hillary Clinton's age may or may not be sexist. But what about the talk about the talk (of which this blog is now guilty)? On Wednesday Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert made light of the situation.

"I know it's rude to talk about a woman's age, but that's not what I am doing," he said. "I am talking about other people talking about people talking about other people talking about a women's age. That's called journalism."

*Note: The original post said Mr Romney was 69 in 2012. He will be 69 in 2016.