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Bush, a Charter Member of the Boomer Generation, Prepares to Turn 60

Times Staff Writer

Lately, President Bush has taken to calling himself “the ol’ president.”

He jokes with audiences about how his eligibility for early Social Security payments, at age 62, “just happens to come in 2008.”

Describing his age as “a personal crisis,” he muses aloud about how he “used to think 60 was old.... Now I think it’s young, don’t you?”

Every day this year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 7,918 people will turn 60. On Thursday, it’s Bush’s turn and Sylvester Stallone’s -- and they’re joined throughout 2006 by such celebrities as Suzanne Somers, Sally Field, Diane Keaton, Tommy Lee Jones, Cher, Steven Spielberg, Susan Sarandon, Donald Trump and Dolly Parton. Among political names, Bush’s wife, Laura, and his White House predecessor, Bill Clinton, also enter their seventh decade this year.

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They are the first of the 78 million American baby boomers, a generation born from 1946 to 1964, so large in number that demographers liken their ascension through the age line to a watermelon being swallowed by a python.

Bush’s birthday will be celebrated today -- two days early -- as 150 friends and family join him at the White House for festivities and fireworks. For his presidency, the Big Six-O signals another milestone likely to draw the attention of friends and foes alike.

Already, the comic strip Doonesbury has raised the president’s age, with Bush asking political guru Karl Rove why the White House is not getting more of a bounce out of the flag-burning amendment and Rove explaining that the only graphic display of flag-burning is grainy footage of protesters now as old as 60.

The Republican National Committee is using the occasion as a fundraiser -- inviting supporters to sign an online birthday e-card and “consider celebrating President Bush’s 60th birthday with a gift our entire party can share ... $60 or whatever you can afford.”

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And performance artist Sheryl Oring, with funding from the Creative Capital Foundation and the Booklyn Artists Alliance, traveled to eight localities whose first letters spell out the word “birthday” to solicit birthday postcards to the president.

Starting in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Memorial Day and ending in Yosemite on July 2, Oring said she attracted a variety of opinions -- from an 8-year-old who thought the president should spend more time outdoors to a German immigrant who suggested that Bush ride in limousines with clear glass windows so people can see him.

Back at the White House, Bush himself has resisted all interviews on the topic -- with the exception of appearing with his wife on CNN’s “Larry King Live,” which will be taped on Thursday for broadcast that night. Aides haveoffered minimal details about today’s celebration. Last year, the White House pastry chef baked a chocolate cake topped with a three-dimensional chocolate mountain bike. There’s been no word on this year’s theme.

If there is one key to the president at 60, say observers, it is his aggressive approach to exercise. A lifelong jogger who once ran a mile in 6 minutes and 45 seconds, he took off his running shoes a few years ago after his knees gave out, and took up mountain biking.

“He was a superb jogger and he very effectively transitioned to cycling,” said Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper, who is one of Bush’s physicians and founder of the Dallas-based Cooper Institute, a nonprofit that promotes fitness as a means of preventing disease. “He’s in equally as good a shape now as when he was jogging.”

Cooper, who popularized the word “aerobics” in his 1968 best-selling book of the same name, described Bush as an example to other baby boomers “not to give up,” even if their knees do.

But according to marketing researcher J. Walker Smith, boomers hardly need the reminder.

“For boomers, life has always been one big adventure after another,” said Smith, president of Yankelovich Inc., a market research firm.

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“Notwithstanding the fact that they are getting edgy about turning 60, boomers are not going to give up their aspirations for youthfulness. It is the defining characteristic of the boomer sensibility.”

As for retirement, Smith said he would advise businesses not to think of baby boomers as old. For one thing, according to his statistics, the boomers’ buying power is estimated to exceed $1.6 trillion annually.

“We tell our clients that boomers are not going to quit working,” he said. “For as long as boomers have been surveyed, from two-thirds to 80% say they will always work. For boomers, the notion of playing shuffleboard in Sun City is a nonstarter.”

Recently, Bush struck an unexpected note of introspection -- suggesting that the controversy over prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib was a setback in the war in Iraq and acknowledging European concerns about the approximately 450 detainees the United States is holding at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. But those who have watched his second-term woes doubt that the utterances herald a new, post-60 Bush.

“I think that has more to do with the low polls,” said Bert A. Rockman, a Purdue University political scientist who co-wrote “The George W. Bush Presidency: Appraisals and Prospects.”

Rockman added, “Bush didn’t all of a sudden become more reflective.”

Most expect the president to carry on his steadfast course, leavened by occasional humor.

During a recent speech in Omaha, he turned to Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), who turns 60 on Oct. 4. “It’s all in your mind,” said Bush. “It’s not that old -- it really isn’t. Right, Sen. Hagel?”

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