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CSU panel explores question of age limits for politicians

Karrin+Anderson%2C+panel+moderator+of+the+Should+there+be+age+limits+for+politicians%3F+discussion%2C+introduces+the+next+question.
Collegian | Cait Mckinzie
Karrin Vasby Anderson, panel moderator of the “Should there be age limits for politicians?” discussion, introduces a new question Feb. 19.

With presidential primary elections already underway in many states and Super Tuesday — a day when over a dozen states, including Colorado, will hold their primaries — just around the corner, there is no shortage of political issues making headlines right now.

One prominent issue in the public conversation surrounding the 2024 presidential election is the candidates’ ages. President Joe Biden is 81, while former President Donald Trump, the current front-runner for the republican nomination, is 77. That puts both candidates well above the U.S. median age of 39 and has prompted public discourse over whether they are both too old to serve as president. 

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“The big kicker, however, is age in and of itself is what we call an empty variable. That means it has very little predictive validity. A person’s chronological age tells us, usually, very little about the competencies of that person or the health of that person.” –Manfred Diehl, human development and family studies university distinguished professor

Due to the growing attention being paid to the ages of political candidates, Colorado State University’s Center for Healthy Aging set out to answer one of the questions that has become prominent in this conversation: Should there be age limits for politicians?

The panel discussion took place Monday, Feb. 19, in the Lory Student Center and was organized by Center for Healthy Aging Communications and Outreach Coordinator Hannah Halusker to attempt to answer that question. 

“(I knew) that there would probably be a pretty huge public discourse when it comes to this question: Should there be age limits?” Halusker said. “We’re seeing that play out right now.”

The panel consisted of Manfred Diehl, university distinguished professor of human development and family studies; Christine Fruhauf, professor of human development and family studies; Lucas Brady Woods, KUNC state Capitol reporter; and Nick DeSalvo, Associated Students of CSU president. The discussion was moderated by Karrin Vasby Anderson, professor of communication studies.

The discussion began with all of the panelists giving their initial response to the central question. They each discussed various aspects of the issue and focused on different ideas. All four panelists emphasized that the problem stems less from age and more from individual ability.

“A broad range, if we’re just saying 65 and over, doesn’t allow for the variability between those individuals that are healthy, self-sufficient, vibrant, versus those that might be dependent on others or need care or those that might be limited in their abilities,” Fruhauf said. 

Addressing the concept of age as the focal point of the issue, Diehl said people like to use it as a variable because it is easy to measure and is therefore an easy metric to understand. 

“The big kicker, however, is age in and of itself is what we call an empty variable,” Diehl said. “That means it has very little predictive validity. A person’s chronological age tells us, usually, very little about the competencies of that person or the health of that person.”

Panelists went on to discuss other topics connected to the debate on age limits, such as mandatory cognitive testing, ageism and how race and gender impact the issue. 

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The event was particularly well timed, occurring in the wake of a special counsel report on Biden’s handling of classified documents released by the U.S. Department of Justice earlier this month. 

While Biden’s age and cognitive function were not the focus of the report, there were mentions of his memory and age that have raised concerns. 

DeSalvo specifically referenced a section of the report that described Biden as “a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory” as particularly concerning to him.  

“We have to have a real conversation about who’s serving us and who’s representing us,” DeSalvo said. “When we’re thinking about genuine representation and who we want at the table for some of the most important conversations of our lifetime, I want someone who I don’t have any questions about being capable.” 

Over the course of the discussion, which included an opportunity for attendees to ask related questions, the four panelists came together on some topics while disagreeing to varying degrees on others. 

On the central question of age limits, however, all four panelists agreed that age cannot be used as the single determining factor of a politician’s capabilities. 

“To consider somebody’s age as a sole factor of their abilities, level of productivity, willingness and as somehow a measure of being unable to do something, that’s just not something that I support,” Fruhauf said. 

Reach Hannah Parcells at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @hannahparcells.

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About the Contributor
Hannah Parcells, News Editor
Hannah Parcells is currently the news editor at The Collegian, a role that she loves dearly. Parcells uses she/her pronouns and began writing for The Collegian in fall 2023 as a reporter under the news, science, opinion and life and culture desks.  Parcells is currently pursuing two degrees: a Bachelor of Science in psychology and a Bachelor of Arts in political science with a concentration in global politics. Parcells has always been passionate about understanding and helping other people and hopes to use her education to try and leave the world a little better than she found it.  Raised in Castle Rock, Colorado, Parcells grew up with a love of learning, music and writing. She’s always working to learn more about the world through history and art and loves being introduced to new places, people and ideas.  On the off chance that she’s not buried in textbooks, research papers and policy analyses, Hannah can be found on a hike, watching movies or at any local bookstore or coffee shop, feeding her ongoing addictions to both caffeine and good books. Parcells is incredibly proud of the work she’s done at The Collegian so far and is excited to continue that work as an editor of the news desk.

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