The Likability Project: Why Do We Love Grumpy Old White Men?

Do we really need a “senior statesman”?

Joanne Bamberger

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Image via DonkeyHotey/Flickr/Creative Commons License

After the Democratic skrimishes between Hillary Clinton supporters and Bernie Sanders acolytes in the 2016 primaries, I promised myself I would not engage with any Bernie Bros or Sisters for the 2020 campaign. It was all too ugly and unnecessary four years ago, and there’s just no need to relive that stress and anxiety.

But with 77-year-old Sanders’ anouncement that he, an Independent and faux Democrat, would seek the Democratic presidential nomination again (meaning, if he were to be elected, he would be about 79 1/2 years old when he would be sworn in), I couldn’t help asking myself this question — What’s up with our love affair with grumpy old white guys in the White House?

It’s not just older voters who are enamored of the G.O.W.G.s.

In 2016, many Millennials claimed that their Bernie love stemmed from his ideas and they didn’t care about his age or his unkempt gray hair or the tone of his voice that suggested he was just as comfortable shaking his fist and yelling at kids to get off his lawn as he was standing in front of crowds of supporters.

But this time around, many of the myriad younger Dem candidates have adopted his stances on college tuition, health care, and more. So we really have to ask ourselves, where is the love coming from that raised over $5 million on the day of Sanders’ announcement, now that he’s in his late 70s?

It’s not an ageist question; when the average life expectancy of men in America is 78 (less depending on the year one was born), there’s something else going on when voters of all generations are able to put that factoid off to the side and believe that men of a certain age are still capable of being the leader of the free world (even though they didn’t give a then 69-year-old Hillary Clinton that benefit of the doubt).

“He who shall not be named” will be 74 if he runs for a second term (or if he hasn’t been impeached and run out of town by 2020). 75-year-old John Kerry hasn’t thrown his hat in the ring yet, but he’s “going to think about it,” even though he lost the presidential race in 2004. And even if you have a soft spot for Joe Biden, he’s only a year younger than…

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Joanne Bamberger

Author, opinion journalist, attorney, photographer. Entreprenurial Journalism Fellow, Newmark J School/CUNY