McCain too old? Ask his contemporaries

Bill DeLisi, 71, of South Pasadena wheels his bike out for a ride recently. He has no qualms about the GOP candidate’s age.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Bill DeLisi, 71, of South Pasadena wheels his bike out for a ride recently. He has no qualms about the GOP candidate’s age.

Bill DeLisi is feeling fine, thanks.

Oh, sure, he has sciatica, his knees hurt, and he has worn a little path from his bed to the bathroom, but you expect those things when you're almost 72.

The good news is, he still enjoys bike rides and thinks of himself as one of the "young old people" in his South Pasadena condo complex.

So when you ask DeLisi whether a guy his age — he and John McCain were born three days apart in 1936 — is too old to become president, he thinks about it for a minute, then says: What was the question?

Just kidding. Here's what he says:

"I have no problem with his age," DeLisi says. "If he wants to live through the eight years, he'll live through it."

• • •

McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, will be 72 on Aug. 29. Happy birthday, Senator. Everybody's talking about how long you have to live.

If McCain defeats Sen. Barack Obama in November, he would be the oldest person ever to become president. Ronald Reagan was 69 when he took office. William Henry Harrison was 68, and very soon dead.

Is it a good idea to elect a 72-year-old to what may be (as DeLisi points out) eight years in office? Even one who, like McCain, is in good health?

We thought, who better to answer it than other 72-year-old guys?

Using driver's license records, we generated a list of men born within a few days of McCain. Then we called them up.

A few men were willing to talk. Some of the phone numbers, ominously, had been disconnected.

• • •

DeLisi is retired from selling cemetery property. He lost his wife 10 years ago.

Right away we ask if he can imagine dealing with the stresses of the presidency. Does he, William G. DeLisi Sr., have enough juice left for eight years of legislative brawls, Rose Garden glad-handing and global diplomacy?

"That's a really tough question, not ever having run a country," he says. This much he knows: He has no worries about McCain, whose politics he likes.

Would he be concerned about a 72-year-old Democrat?

Why, yes. The Democrats have burned so much energy hating President Bush, DeLisi says, that "they've probably shortened their life spans."

• • •

"I feel real good," says Gerald Lovelace, who is two weeks older than McCain. "I'm not going to run for election or anything, but I feel real good."

A retired truck driver from Tennessee, he lives in Dade City with his wife of 53 years and enjoys shuffleboard, swimming and shopping. He had prostate cancer but he's okay now.

Mostly. Lovelace used to grease his car and change the oil, but that's all over now. "If I get up and down on my knees on that concrete, they kill me," he says.

Then Lovelace makes a surprising admission: He has lost a little something, mentally.

"I can't remember like I did 10 years ago. It's just different things, when you try to think of them, they don't come to you as quick."

Any worries about McCain forgetting stuff?

Nope.

"I think he could do the job in his 90s. I think he would be all right."

• • •

If you look at it one way, 72 is really old. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the estimated life expectancy for a white male born in 1936 was 58 years. Statistically, McCain should have checked out when Obama was still teaching law in Chicago.

But he was fortunate: He made it to adulthood (a considerable achievement), survived Vietnam and skin cancer, didn't get hit on the head by a falling flower pot, etc. Today, a 72-year-old white male can expect to live a dozen years.

McCain can serve two terms as president and still have time left to putter.

Maybe. (See "falling flower pot, etc.")

• • •

It's the mind that Robert Monroe worries about. Not his. McCain's.

Monroe lives in Tampa with his wife of 47 years. He retired after 31 years with Seagram Corp. A registered Republican, he voted for George W. Bush in 2000 and now regrets it.

He plays golf, tries to ignore the torn meniscus in his knee, and sometimes walks upstairs and forgets what he was going to do.

Monroe, who was in the Marines in the '50s, worries that McCain is mentally rigid, unable to change his mind when he should.

Maybe the military made him that way, Monroe figures. Or maybe Washington did.

Could those 72 years be the culprit?

"It's difficult for me to pin it on age," Monroe says, "because I am his age, and I think I have an ability to look at facts and make a good decision."

Mike Wilson can be reached at mike@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2924. Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story.

McCain too old? Ask his contemporaries 08/10/08 [Last modified: Thursday, August 21, 2008 9:05pm]

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