Kerry 2020 and the Reign of the Gerontocrats

If Biden and Sanders are considered front-runners for 2020, why can’t the younger and arguably more successful Kerry run? Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Nestled in an Israeli report about former senator and secretary of State John Kerry meeting in London with a close associate of Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas is this political news:

[Kerry] surprised his interlocutor by saying he was seriously considering running for president in 2020. When asked about his advanced age, he said he was not much older than Trump and would not have an age problem.

The natural first reaction to the idea of Kerry 2020 is: What? But the more you think about it from his perspective, it becomes: Why not?

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are being regularly treated as the co-front-runners for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. Kerry is a year younger than Biden and two years younger than Sanders. Unlike either of them, he’s undefeated in presidential nominating campaigns (Biden is 0 for 2, Sanders 0 for 1), and came within an eyelash of defeating an incumbent president who was (at the time) a lot more popular than Donald Trump is likely to be in 2020.

Having avoided the 2016 intra-Democratic cage match due to his responsibilities as secretary of State, Kerry isn’t neatly captured as a member of any party faction (though some will never forgive him for voting to authorize the Iraq War). He’s now the rare presidential possibility in either party who is a decorated war veteran; given Trump’s dodgy draft history, the incumbent might think twice about trying to “Swiftboat” Kerry. Like a lot of narrowly unsuccessful presidential candidates, the 2004 Democratic nominee looks a lot better in retrospect.

Having said all that, what the idea of Kerry running again really illustrates is the gerontocracy governing American politics at present. Even this positive assessment of Kerry makes him out as something of an anachronism:

Actually, Kerry is a member of the so-called Silent Generation that predated the baby boom. So are Biden and Sanders. You have to move down the age ladder to Elizabeth Warren — a wee lass at 68 — to find a 2020 possibility who is a boomer.

I’ve argued earlier that Democrats ought to resolve right now not to nominate anyone in 2020 who is older than the oldest man ever to win a first election to the presidency, Donald Trump. But if there isn’t going to be any age cutoff, then it’s obvious John Kerry should get a hearing.

Kerry 2020 and the Reign of the Gerontocrats