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The Age Factor

Written by Gary Paul Gates, special to

I once worked for an editor who was an ardent baseball fan and was old enough to have seen Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and other heroes from that golden era when they were in their prime.

The reason I introduce him this way is because he had a standard response whenever calamity struck. It could be almost anything: a political assassination, the outbreak of fighting in the Middle East, an earthquake in California, or some other natural disaster.

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Whatever it was, when reports of the bad news came clacking into the newsroom over the AP wire, he would shake his head and, in a tone of mock-solemnity, offer this observation: "None of these things would be happening if they still played major league baseball only in the afternoon and in no city west of St. Louis."

I found myself thinking of that wry gent a couple of weeks ago when the news came roaring out of Washington that our leader, President Bill Clinton, stood accused - once again - of procuring (or granting) sexual favors outside the province of his marriage.

I had a number of conflicting reactions to this latest "bimbo eruption," and one of them was a paraphrase of my former editor's favorite lament. Yes, I thought, none of this would be happening if we - the American citizenry - adhered to the practice of electing Presidents who had reached "a certain age," as they prefer to say in polite circles.

The names that came most readily to mind were Harry Truman, who turned 61 just a few weeks after he moved into the White House; Dwight Eisenhower, who was 62 when he was elected President; and the most venerable of them all - Ronald Reagan - who celebrated his 70th birthday shortly after he was sworn into office.

Truman, perhaps, is not a fair example because even as a much younger man, he had eyes for only one woman - his beloved wife, Bess.

But Eisenhower is another matter entirely. To this day rumors persist that during World War II, when he was leading the Allies to victory in Europe, the general found time to indulge in some four-star dressing down with an attractive woman who was not his wife.

That may or may not be true, but all the evidence clearly suggests that by the time he became President, Eisenhower's only serious passion was golf.

Or to put it another way, during his years in the White House, Ike's idea of a matinee break from the burdens of the job was to practice his strokes on the greenery outside the Oval Office. (Lest there be any confusion, the word "strokes," in this context, refers only to putting technique.)

As for Reagan - the only divored man to be elected President - it should be remembered that he spent his salad days in Hollywood, a culture never known as a bastion of moral rectitude.

Hence, there's ample reason to believe that when his marriage to Jane Wyman was veering toward the rocks, he was passing some of it around to sundry starlets before he finally hooked up with the actress who became Nancy Reagan.

Yet we know that by the time ol' Dutch made it to the White House, his energy level was so low that he had trouble staying awake during Cabinet meetings. Hardly the behavior of a man driven by erotic appetites into the arms of other women, even if his wife - she of the Adoring Gaze - had been willing to look the other way.

The essential point is that throughout the Presidencies of Truman, Eisenhower and Reagan, there was never a whisper of amorous hanky-panky. And moral character aside, I think one reason is because they were simply past their prime. Even if their spirit had been willing, their flesh just wasn't what it used to be.

Call it what you will - excessive sexual activity or insatiable Don Juanism - going at it frequently with multiple partners is primarily a young man's game.

Which brings us back to our current President, the Arkansas Traveler. When Bill Clinton was elected to the top job at the age of 46, he brought to the White House a reputation for being a skirt chaser and a robust set of raging hormones. In fairness, he did deny a long-term affair with Gennifer (with a G).

So, given his track record and physical vitality, the recent allegations being leveled at Clinton should have come as no surprise. If a leopard is unable to change his spots, why should we have expected the Man From Hope to change his?

In this regard, the Chief Executive Clinton most closely resembles is that other young President of recent memory - John F. Kennedy. He, too, came into the White House with a reputation for being a heavy-duty stud and, as we found out many years after his death, his sexual exploits while serving as President were downright Homeric.

In 1960, when he made his dramatic run for the Presidency at the tender age of 43, Kennedy talked a lot about "vigor," about his goal to explore "new frontiers" and about the need for a "Piece Corps." Not until years later were we able to decipher the hidden meaning behind those code phrases.

In reading over these observations, it occurs to me that I might have offended some senior citizens (male division). For I'm sure there are plenty of geezers around who hotly resent the suggestion that they have become limp shadows of their former selves - and they have a point.

To buttress that point, I need only refer to the circumstances surrounding the death of Nelson Rockefeller in January 1979. When the time came for him to gasp his last breath, he was believed to have been in a state of strenuous sexual activity. Indeed, according to some reports, with him in his private love nest ere not one, but two young ladies.

The details of that final tryst remain forever murky, but a few days after Rockefeller's death, a local anchorman bid farewell to the four-term governor of New York with this touching tribute:

"If even half of what we've heard about that night is true, then all I can say is, at the age of 70, Nelson Rockefeller is an inspiration to us all."

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