Some Republicans are alleging that Dems are alluding to McCain's age in code. I would be proud to be the first to say that this is poor behavior on the part of Dems; Dems should not be alluding to McCain's age in code - they should be addressing it forthrightly as the valid issue it is.
McCain, born on August 28, 1936, is 71 years old and would be 72 were he to take office on January 20, 2009, making him the oldest first-term president in history. (Ronald Reagan, born on February 6, 1911, and leaving office on January 20, 1989, at age 77, would maintain the title of oldest president in history unless McCain stayed in office at least until January 13, 2014, which would require not only his survival but also his winning a second term.)
Life expectancy for white males born in 2008 was recently announced to be 76 years. If this applied to McCain, he would likely be able to make it through most or all of a first term, but not much more. However, a more appropriate statistic is the number of years a person of a given age could expect to live; a white male aged 70 in 2004, the most recent year for which data is available, could expect to live 13.7 years. Given that that number increases to 17.2 for a 65-year-old, let's just do some crude math and say that McCain, who turned 68 in 2004, had 15 years as of 2004, which would take him through two presidential terms. However, there are a few things that might take McCain off of this course.
The first is the torture that McCain underwent as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Medical research has shown that trauma, such as McCain undoubtedly underwent as a POW, can shorten the life span of the victim. There doesn't seem to be any good basis to determine how much McCain's life may be shorted by what happened to him in Vietnam, but it seems a reasonable conclusion that, given the level of torture he underwent, his life expectancy will be affected negatively.
The second is McCain's thus-far successful battle with skin cancer. For this one, McCain's risk is small, although not insignificant.
The melanoma removed in 2000 was Stage IIa on a standard classification that makes Stage IV the most serious. For Stage IIa melanoma, the survival rate 10 years after diagnosis is about 65 percent. But the outlook is much better for patients like Mr. McCain, who have already survived more than seven years.So, roughly speaking, as of 2005, McCain had a 1 in 10 chance of dying from skin cancer before 2010. I would imagine that over time those odds have gone further in his favor, but this is a concern that we don't have at all with Obama.
For patients with a melanoma like Mr. McCain’s who remained free of the disease for the first five years after diagnosis, the probability of recurrence during the next five years was 14 percent and death 9 percent, a study published in 1992 found.
McCain likes to counter, when his age is brought up, that his mother, Roberta Wright McCain, is currently 96 years old and seems to be in good health for her age, implicitly arguing that he's got genes that will lead to a long life span. What he fails to mention is that his father, John S. McCain, Jr., died at the age of 70 in 1981. A 70-year-old white male in 1981, as McCain's father was, had an average of 11.35 more years to live, so clearly McCain's father died a good deal earlier than statistics would have predicted. McCain's genetic history seems to cut both ways and doesn't seem terribly helpful in refining a prediction; McCain's monther, at 96, is clearly beating the statistics, while McCain's father didn't even come close to meeting the statistics.
The bottom line is that McCain is a great deal more likely to die in office than Obama. Death is much more likely to strike a 71-year-old than a 46-year-old, and that gap only widens when the 71-year old has undergone the trauma of torture and a bout of cancer.
Out of 43 presidents, so far 4 of them - William Henry Harrison in 1841, Zachary Taylor in 1850, Warren Harding in 1923, and Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1945 - have died of natural causes in office. In other words, more than 9% of our presidents have died in office. This doesn't seem to be at the forefront of people's minds since the last to do so was more than half a century ago, but that doesn't change the fact that it is a real possibility with McCain.
So let's make sure we vote for the candidate less likely to die in office and force us to change horses midstream.