If Hillary Clinton takes the oath of office on January 20, 2017 -- at age 69 -- she will be the second-oldest person to become president. (Reagan was a few months older in 1981). Her supporters say that her age should not be an issue. In 1996, however, the Clinton team did not hesitate to use the age issue against Bob Dole.
On May 5, 1996, The New York Times reported:
A new Democratic Party television commercial takes a not-too-subtle swipe at Senator Bob Dole, age 72. After a shot of him side-by-side with Speaker Newt Gingrich, the announcer warns (emphasis added): "Their old ways don't work. President Clinton's plan -- the new way."
Jack Quinn, the White House counsel, pointedly describes a recent Dole speech as "tired, old, worn-out rhetoric."
And Ann Lewis, deputy manager of the Clinton campaign, implies feebleness when she ridicules remarks by the Senator as "disconnected and dysfunctional."
Such coded partisan formulations aren't the half of it: the old-guy bashing of Mr. Dole in political cartoons and late-night comedy routines has reached an intensity that makes the jokes about Ronald Reagan in the 1980's seem like gentle kidding. Dole age jokes ("Dole is 96") are now as much a part of popular culture as gibes at Madonna's impending motherhood, and sometimes as mean-spirited.In its May 19, 1996 edition, Newsweek reported: "Clinton aides refer to every Dole statement as `tired,' `old' or `grumpy.'"
Presidential aides almost never comment on the ages of Dole and Kemp, and deny there is any concerted generational strategy.
But the images, intended or not, are unmistakable:
_Democratic ads fade to black-and-white when Dole is pictured, giving his face an ashen hue.
_During his Wyoming vacation, the president and his family took a rugged 8.5-mile hike through the wilds of Yellowstone National Park. He posed for pictures atop a horse and took a heart-pounding ride on the Snake River rapids.
_This spring, Clinton and Gore rolled up their sleeves in front of photographers and hoisted bulky logs as part of a cleanup project along the Potomac River.
_White House aides make frequent reference to Dole's ``old'' ideas or ``old'' solutions.
_Clinton surrogates are not above joking about Dole's age. Party chairman Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., told a union gathering Monday that pot smoking by politicians is not an issue. ``Actually most people wanted to know whether or not Bob Dole had experimented with beer during prohibition,'' he said.
Asked about the age issue Sunday, Clinton told CBS that it ``is no big deal.''
But senior political advisers, speaking on condition of anonymity, say age will be a factor in the election by feeding criticism that Dole offers little new to the public debate.
Reflecting that thinking, the president said Sunday, ``The main thing is whether the ideas are old.''
There's that word again.