Candidates of a certain age, &c.

Joe Biden in September 2018 (Yuri Gripas / Reuters)
On Biden, Emperor Naruhito, Bush 43, presidential golf, milkshakes, and more

In 1984, the question about Joe Biden was, Will he or won’t he? Will he run for president or not? Some people — especially Pat Caddell, the political consultant — were itching for Biden to run. They thought he was a hot commodity. In the end, he did not, and Walter Mondale, the former vice president, got the nomination.

Imagine saying to Biden that year, “Don’t worry, Joe: There’ll always be 2020.”

He is 76 years old. It seems that he has been in politics forever. In 1972, he was elected to the U.S. Senate at the ripe age of 29. But hang on a minute: The Constitution says you have to be 30, right? Right — to serve in the Senate. Biden turned 30 before he was sworn in. He was 29 on Election Day.

This is a time of elderly candidates. You have Biden and also Bernie Sanders, age 77. President Trump is a mere stripling at 72.

In 1980, a big deal was made of Reagan’s age. He was 69 years old. He would be 70 only about two weeks after the inauguration! This was a liability for the candidate. His staff started to refer to him as “The Oldest & Wisest,” or “The O&W,” for short.

A fun (possibly) fact: Mayor Pete of South Bend, who is also running for president, was born a full ten years after Joe Biden was first elected to the Senate. Pete was born in Reagan’s first term.

What I say of musicians, I also say of politicians: Age and experience are great — but they are not the only things. There are other considerations, such as talent and character.

I once asked Lorin Maazel, the late conductor, about age. He had been a child prodigy; now he was almost 80. Most people think age is an asset on the podium. True? Not necessarily, said Maazel. “It depends on who’s growing older. I’ve always tried to learn as I’ve moved forward in life, and I consider each performance to be a learning experience, and try to capitalize on what I’ve learned.”

Some people, however, “age complacently, and those folks don’t improve, I’m afraid. It’s a question of mindset.”

I love that phrase: “age complacently.” (Don’t do it!)

Maazel continued, “Youth is a mindset, not a physiological state. I know so many young people who were born old.”

Let me walk down Memory Lane, to pluck a couple of examples of old statesmen. Konrad Adenauer, the longtime chancellor of West Germany, was known as “Der Alte,” the Old Man. He was 87 at the end of his time in office. One of my favorite leaders ever was Sandro Pertini, the president of Italy. He became president at 81 and stayed on until he was 88. Wonderful gent. (He and Reagan, who was president in Washington, got along famously.)

I remember a bumper sticker from 1996. Someone put it up at The Weekly Standard, where I was then working. It said, “Thurmond-Helms ’96: Don’t Let 200 Years of Experience Go to Waste.”


• We are going to have a new emperor of Japan — I say “we,” but, of course, I really mean Japan. He is Naruhito, age 59. He plays the viola. A friend of his says that Naruhito’s choice of instrument says a lot about what kind of man he is.

I learned it from this report. Very interesting.

In an essay he contributed for a concert brochure, Naruhito once wrote: “I’m starting to understand the role of the viola, which doesn’t stand out, but harmony becomes lonesome without it. … It’s a joy to have chosen the viola as a friend through which I could meet people and play music.”

One might do a whole doctoral thesis out of this — either a Japanologist or a musicologist.

• In 1998, a black man named James Byrd was lynched in Texas. Hideous case. It became an issue in the 2000 election campaign, which pitted George W. Bush, the governor of Texas, against Al Gore, the vice president. The Democrats attacked Bush for not supporting “hate crimes” legislation; this was supposed to make him insensitive to the lynching. Bush responded that the three killers were going to be put to death — and “you can’t punish them any worse than that.”

Actually, two of the three killers were sentenced to death, and one was sentenced to life in prison.

Why am I bringing up all this now? One of the killers was executed in 2011. Another one was executed last week. (For a report, go here.) I believe Bush was right. Always have.

• Trump has apparently decided on a nickname for Biden: “Sleepy Joe.” He does this — attach nicknames: “Lyin’ Ted,” “Little Marco,” and on and on. I don’t expect presidents to be prim, and don’t want them to be. But I do think they set an example, for better or worse. We tell our kids, probably, not to call names. Should the same be accepted in a president?

You know what this country could use? A movement for the revival of conservative values.

Trump puts nicknames on others, but they do not put nicknames on him, for some reason. “Demented Donald,” “Deranged Donald,” “Disgusting Donald,” etc. (“Daffy Donald”?) This is a strange imbalance. How would Trump Nation feel if their man were tagged with one of these names?

Something to consider.

• One of my favorite pieces of journalism in all the Clinton era was by Byron York, writing in The American Spectator. Published in 1996, the piece was called “Bill’s Bad Lie.” The subheading was “The way he plays golf tells you more about his character than any special prosecutor ever will.”

Golf is a game of honor. Clinton and golf were foreign to each other.

I thought of Byron’s great piece when noticing a new book, by Rick Reilly: Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump.

The American Spectator was right: Golf is a revealer of character, whether the golfer is a Democrat, a Republican, or something else.

• Between Vladimir Putin’s Russia and Viktor Orbán’s Hungary, ties are ever stronger. A former counterintelligence officer was moved to speak to the Voice of America about this. He is Ferenc Katrein, who was once high up in the relevant Hungarian service. Now he lives abroad (of course).

The entire interview is enlightening, but I will excerpt just a few words. Katrein says, “All the Russian services — the GRU, FSB, and SVR — are highly active in Hungary and they have free rein. That was my problem. There was no effort to curtail or control them. We are a member of NATO and we have a responsibility to our allies. The question some of us started asking was, ‘Who is our partner, NATO or the Russians?’”

A good and important question.

• Nazareth College, outside Rochester, N.Y., has a Casa Italiana. It is one of the few such centers in America. It is run by Professor Maria Rosaria Vitti-Alexander, one of the most personable, dynamic, and effective teachers you could imagine. I should know: She was my teacher, long ago. The kids at Nazareth, and the community at large, are lucky to have her. Many of them know it, too.

I spent a couple of days in this wonderful, unusual company. I gave a little talk called “The Joys of Italian.” You know from where I cribbed my title, don’t you? In the late 1960s, The Joys of Yiddish, by Leo Rosten, was a huge seller.

• Here is a banner, hanging at Nazareth. Makes me want to enroll. In any case, makes me want to do better.

• The college is next to Oak Hill, the storied golf course (home of U.S. Opens, PGAs, Ryder Cups, etc.). Alas, I could only peer in through the fence …

• I could buy a milkshake at Pittsford Farms Dairy. A better milkshake is unimaginable. I could have cried with happiness.

I had another good one not long ago, too: That came from Arethusa Farm Dairy in New Haven, Conn.

Here is an obit of Marilyn Mason. She was a very big deal in my little hometown of Ann Arbor, Mich. She was a big deal worldwide, too. She was a leading organist, on the faculty of the University of Michigan for — brace yourself — 67 years.

I remember hearing a recital by her once. It was in a church where the console was behind a wall of sorts. One of the pieces on the program had an ambiguous ending. You weren’t sure whether the piece had ended. From behind the wall came a helpful, charming cough.

It was as though Professor Mason were saying, “Ahem — you can applaud now. That was pretty good, wasn’t it?” It was, for sure.

Thanks for joining me, everyone. If you’d like to drop me a line, try Talk to you soon.

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