Age Only Matters for Female Candidates

Age Only Matters for Female Candidates January 19, 2015

If Mitt Romney does decide to jump into the presidential race for a third time, we’ll have the perfect opportunity to view sexism in action. Why? Because Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney are the same age (actually, Romney is about 7 months older). Want to keep count on how many pundits and reporters mention her age versus those who mention his?

Mitt Romney’s reemergence as a possible top-tier Republican contender for the 2016 White House race has created an awkward situation for some Republicans and conservative commentators who have been dwelling on Hillary Clinton’s age in recent months. The development also poses a potentially thorny issue for journalists in terms of how they treat male and female politicians.

To date, Republicans have been eager to highlight Clinton’s age. “Republican strategists and presidential hopefuls, in ways subtle and overt, are eager to focus a spotlight on Mrs. Clinton’s age,” the New York Times reported in 2013. Just this week, conservative Washington Post contributor Ed Rogers mocked Clinton for being stuck in a cultural “time warp,” circa the “tie-dye” 1960s.

So why the newfound awkwardness for spotlighting Clinton’s age? Because Mitt Romney’s the same age as Hillary Clinton. They’re both 67 years old. (Actually, Romney’s older than Clinton by seven months.)

The fact that early polling suggests the possible Republican front runner is the same age as Clinton raises interesting questions for the political press, which has carved out plenty of time and space in recent years to analyze the question of Clinton’s age and to repeat Republican allegations that she might be too old for the job of president. Going forward, will the same press corps devote a similar amount of time and space asking the same questions about Romney? And if not, why not? (A recent Boston Globe article actually positioned Romney’s age as a plus for the Republican: “Supporters have also noted that Romney would be 69 years old in 2016 — the same age as Reagan when he was sworn into his first term.”)

Note that Clinton famously faced sexist commentary about her age during the 2008 campaign. The late Slate writer Christopher Hitchens ridiculed her as an “aging and resentful female,” while Rush Limbaugh’s website once asked, “Do the American people want to observe the aging of this woman in office?”

Currently, we know where Republicans stand, albeit before they realized 67-year-old Romney might run again. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell compared Clinton to a cast member from “The Golden Girls,” Rick Santorum called her “old,” Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker claimed that Clinton “embodies that old, tired top-down approach from the government,” while former Fox host Mike Huckabee wondered if the former secretary of state who traveled nearly one million miles while in office would have the stamina for a national campaign: “She’s going to be at an age where it’s going to be a challenge for her.”

And then there’s Fox contributor Erick Erickson. Hillary Clinton is “going to be old” in 2016, he said. “I don’t know how far back they can pull her face.”

I think we all know the answer to that. Her age will get mentioned a lot; his won’t.

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