AT THIS very early stage in the jockeying for 2016, Democrats are abiding by admonitions to respect their (party) elders — those with the most fund-raising clout and presidential-campaign experience. One elder with apparent interest in running for president next time around is Vice President Joe Biden, 70, who was first elected to the US Senate in 1972. Then there’s Hillary Clinton, who first burst on the national scene in 1992 and is now 65. Each deserves a chance to make his or her case, but Democrats seem so enamored of these two storied veterans that there’s little room for another serious candidacy. That would be a shame, because Democratic primary voters, far more often than Republican primary voters, have shown a predilection for giving a chance to less-experienced candidates.
Age itself could be an issue for Biden or Clinton, to the extent that it affects each candidate’s health. Ronald Reagan, who was 69 at the time of his victory in 1980, was the oldest person elected president for the first time. Biden would start his first term even older — at 74 — and had serious health problems in his mid-40s, including both a brain aneurysm and a pulmonary embolism.
But that’s not the main reason to hope that Democrats attract a wider field of candidates. Over the years, Biden and Clinton have learned a few things about politics — such as how an early show of interest in a presidential contest, coupled with major amounts of fund-raising, can ward off potential challenges. But that’s a piece of wisdom that other Democrats should feel no obligation to honor. Those who harbor presidential hopes shouldn’t be deferential. So far, however, only Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has talked openly about his ambitions.
In 2008, presented with a field that featured both Clinton and Biden, Democratic voters opted for a younger, fresher face. They should at least have the chance to exercise the same inclination in 2016.