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McHale: The last thing Dems need is an aging presidential candidate in 2020

Paul McHale Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense 030319-A-3569D-003

The summer of 2017 was a good one. My wife and I packed up our two grandchildren and took off on a month-long camping tour of the national parks. We traveled 7,100 miles, wore out two sets of RV tires and crossed America one DQ at a time—but ultimately, the real journey was one of the heart.

There's a lesson here for some of our would-be presidents. You're too old.

To state it bluntly, there are better things for you to be doing at this point in life than doggedly pursuing public office—better for you, your family and most importantly, better for the country. There's a whole generation of American leadership standing behind you. They need to step forward, and you need to step out of the way.

This past week a number of Washington pundits began their 2020 presidential ruminations. It seems that Bernie Sanders, who is 76, is the recognized Democratic front-runner. Joe Biden, 74, is keeping his options open. And although she's clearly got a touch of presidential fever, Elizabeth Warren supposedly won't run if Bernie gets in the race, but astonishingly, at 68, she's the voice of youthful vigor.

At this point, about all the Democratic Party needs to ensure yet another catastrophic failure is for Hillary Clinton, who turns 70 next month, to pledge a comeback. When it comes to aging ambition, I have considerable empathy. I'll be 70 when we hold our next presidential election. We baby boomers have benefited from stunning advances in health care that now allow for an active life many decades longer than our parents could ever have envisioned. I'm in no great hurry to implement my living will. In fact, my current plan is to go back to school full time in 2019, hopefully in Ireland, to earn a master's degree on the GI Bill. I don't want to preach the gospel of lifelong learning, I want to live it.

My prayer is that the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee will represent the intelligence, compassion, civility, energy and courage of an entirely new generation of American leadership. You won't get that from Bernie, Joe, Elizabeth, or Hillary. So let's clear the bench of our current presidential contenders and, instead, over the next two years, look for potential presidential candidates who are very smart, very serious and in their 40s. OK, maybe their 50s. But don't trust anyone over 60—they belong in the Senate.

Let's find a Democratic presidential candidate who has a true passion for social justice, combined with a realistic understanding of the economic engine needed to pay for it. And finally, let's elect a Democratic president in 2020 who can thank Trump's generals for keeping us out of nuclear war, while recognizing that in a healthy democracy senior civilian offices should be filled, well, by civilians. We have now been at war against terrorist fanatics for more than 16 years. That war has been fought by young men and women half my age. In 2020, let's elect one of them president.

McHale is a former member of Congress (1993-99), former assistant secretary of defense (2003-2009) and a retired Marine colonel with more than 30 years of active and reserve service. He wrote this piece for The Philadelphia Enquirer. Email him at