I knew I was going to hate Chris Cillizza’s latest phone-in #analysis on Sen. Bernie Sanders’ heart procedure from the onset but, as is Cillizza’s unique gift, he surpassed my expectations.
Why.....Bernie Sanders’.......heart attack...........matters. It would seem like a joke if he hadn’t gone on to write hundreds of words throwing lit matches at this straw man. Who’s arguing that Sanders’ health doesn’t matter? That this health scare won’t matter? Even the most ardent Sanders supporters I know concede that, on some level, this incident matters—it’s the extent to which it’ll impact the campaign and voters’ perceptions of Sanders that’s open to debate.
Here’s the core of Cillizza’s argument (emphasis mine throughout):
Given that the three frontrunners for the Democratic nod are septuagenarians, the age/health question has been a low buzz in the race from the start. But with Biden, Warren and Sanders keeping schedules that would exhaust this 43-year-old in about a day’s time, there’s been little to hang those worries on.
That’s now changed — in a fundamental way. While Sanders and his campaign (and his supporters) are quick to downplay how serious (or not) this heart attack was for the Vermont senator, it’s hard to get away from this fact: Sanders, a 78-year-old man, had a heart attack that required surgery. While there are lots and lots of people who have this exact experience, most of them are not running for president. And no one disputes that being president — or even running for it — is a hugely stressful job.
OK, sure, that fact about Sanders is indeed a fact. I’ll also agree that concerns about the advanced age of the Democratic field have been present from the jump. But I simply don’t agree that Biden’s behavior has provided “little to hang those worries” about. The argument here seems to be: Sanders’ heart?? Yikes!! What’s it mean?? No one knows!!
Cillizza then pivots to talking about polls—most Americans don’t want a president in their 70s, and yet that’s what we have! But polls? Wow, lots of other unknowns, not sure what to make of this! Bruce Springsteen though!
There’s also some element of uncertainty built into polling about such a sensitive topic as age. Do people pull punches when talking about how much age matters to their vote when talking to a complete stranger in a poll? Do they actually care more than they would ever admit to a pollster?
That’s a question we don’t know the answer to. Especially because some of these decisions and opinions may well be based on specific candidates and how they seem to be aging. After all, we know that one man’s 76 isn’t another man’s 76. Hell, Bruce Springsteen is 70 and looks like he is about 50!
Great stuff! Whatever CNN is paying Cillizza is a bargain—keep up the heady work.