Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Old guy walks into a bar...

This is not about presidential politics. This is about the politics of aging.

We begin with the quote of the day:
“Expect open season in the coming campaign for implicitly bashing the elderly as McCain’s political foes and some media personalities stereotype him in ways that are justifiably considered off limits regarding Barack Obama’s race. Still, there is a silver lining for McCain if Clinton’s experience is any guide. Women voters rallied to Clinton in response to the rampant sexism... Democrats and media commentators who relentlessly mock his age could end up rallying elder votes to his side,” Congressional Quarterly political analyst Craig Crawford.

I like Craig Crawford.

But he is too young to understand the older generation. We largely poll against John McCain because we know things. Each of us who has reached a certain age understands the way aging diminishes the playing field. We acknowledge that we’ve lost a step – and we fret that McCain has, too. The White House ages the occupant fast.

The late night comics and some Democrats will not be able to resist pin-cushioning McCain about his age. That’s an opportunity for AARP to step up as our defender and knock down ageism. But AARP doesn’t seem to have the brass. AARP should mount an assault. But they won't. Too cowardly. Just lip service.

So night after night Leno and Letterman will freely mock this genuine American hero. In doing so, the comics mock us all. There is a delicate line between fun and ridicule.

Understand. I’m not voting for McCain. Not for president. But I am pulling for him to overcome the assaults of ageism. McCain could become a symbol for all older Americans if he can figure out how to kick some comedian’s butt rather than playing along with the jokes about being old.

Sure, humor has its place. But try this simple little test tonight when Leno and Letterman do their monologues. Every time they make an old person joke, change "old" to terrible, hurtful, off-limit words like nigger, or kike, or wetback.

Get the point? Stereotyping diminishes us all.


Ken Martin said...

George, you're protecting your turf, as it were, as usual, but again you object to the humor that's implicit in McCain (in my opinion) coming to the presidential race as too old to cut the mustard in the White House, which you already noted ages the occupant rapidly.

Recall how Ronald Reagan tried to finesse the question of his age in presidential debates. About.com records it this way: "Funny lines can be a +; we all love wit. But be careful. In debates, jokes have a serious purpose. In 1984, President Ronald Reagan's shaky performance in his first debate with Democrat Walter Mondale made people ask if Reagan, 73, was still mentally up to the job. In the next debate, Reagan defused the issue by joking, 'I won't hold my opponent's youth and inexperience against him.' But the real question remained."

I'll be 69 my xmas, I work out like crazy and I'm in good shape but would I have the energy the president's officeholder needs (assuming I met all the other requirements, which I don't)? Hell, no.

And don't get me started on the fact that McCain will amount to not much more than Bush III. Ask yourself, how could a decorated Vietnam War hero vote against the currently proposed G.I. Bill? A no-brainer to support but he will not do so. Shove off, McCain, and make way for a new generation.

Jeff Hebert said...

I think this is going to turn out to be one of the most interesting aspects to this year's race (or at least the coverage of it). I'm curious to see how many ways the Republicans can say "Don't vote for Obama because he's black" without actually saying it, and how many ways the Democrats can say "Don't vote for McCain because he's old" without coming out and actually saying that.

On the one hand, clearly racism and ageism are two different beasts, because I won't ever be black but I will (hopefully) be old one day.

On the other hand, what matters is not what other people who happen to share some demographic data point with a person have done or are like, but what that specific person has done or is like.

One challenge for the McCain camp is going to be avoiding the use of humor like "senior moment" to excuse away lapses like, for instance, they did when their candidate mixed up who the Shia and Sunni were in Iraq. You can't have it both ways; either age isn't an issue and you can't use it as a funny way to sidestep gaffes, or it is an issue and you can try to laugh it off.

One advantage Obama has in the "battle of the -isms" is that we haven't ever had a black president, while McCain has the disadvantage of having Reagan as an example, who was 73 when he ran for re-election (McCain will be 72). I think a lot of people believe Reagan was suffering from Alzheimer's in his last term, and that it impacted his performance (not remembering whether or not you authorized the sale of arms to foreign nationals in violation of Congressional law?).

As for me, I feel there are legitimate concerns with regards to McCain's age that shouldn't be off-limits when considering his fitness to hold the office, namely, is he healthy enough to stand up to the rigors of the job both mentally and physically.

However, assuming his health reports are clear on both counts (and so far they seem to be), then the issue is moot and he's as viable a candidate as anyone else. Will the same be true in four more years? Well hell, none of us know what the future holds for our health. JFK was shot, Harrison died of pneumonia right after taking the oath, anyone can get hit by a bus on any given day, etc. etc. The best you can do is make sure they're fit on day one, and from there you just kind of take your chances.

The South Plainsman said...

If every error in speaking mcCain makes is because of his age, to what should one attribute Obama's errors? I will agree that they are not because he is black, or because of his age. Maybe, just maybe, he doesn't know what he is talking about.

Poor old Reagan. He was too old to "remember" Iran-Contra, but just recall that Slick Willie Clinton, who was much younger than Reagan, couldn't remember getting a blow job in the Oval Office.

This is going to be an interesting election.

Jeff Hebert said...

If what you're saying is that Reagan was lying just like Clinton did, I'm happy to accept that explanation, Plainsman :-)

But if he wasn't lying, it's not because he was old, it's because he had Alzheimer's, a medical condition. That's not an anti-old-person slur, it's a disease he is confirmed to have suffered -- and ultimately died -- from.

Assuming McCain doesn't have the same medical condition (which he doesn't), the fact they he's close to Reagan's age is fairly irrelevant. Not as irrelevant as the tried-and-true, always-handy all-purpose conservative's defense of "Clinton's Penis!", but irrelevant.

The concern isn't their age, it's their health. So far McCain seems to be in pretty good shape (except for the cancer, but that seems licked).

Bill Clinton was (and is) a congenital liar, but I'm pretty sure that's not medical. Just scummy.

The South Plainsman said...

Politicians "forget" a lot of things. Don't know if Reagan was lying, or had not been told the full story. Whatever it was, it should not have happened.

My thought is that both of our candidates have serious weaknesses. Age is certaily a downside for McCain, just as inexperience and a fundamental lack of knowledge about foreign and military affairs is a great weakness of Obama.

A strong VP candidate will help McCain; there is very little that will cure the Obama deficit. In my opinion, of course.

We will see if the nonspecific promise of change will overcome that with the electorate. It probably will.

Anonymous said...

Just don't sneeze or cough around me! I may decide to run for the post myself.Then you'd have somebody old that has no clue about running a country,and I'm not even a black marxist.----Goose

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