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June 23, 2008

Ageism -- the Last Acceptable Prejudice?

Mccain_john_0408 How many times have you already heard this criticism of Sen. McCain: "He's too old"? What is that supposed to mean? Age has made him mentally sluggish? He needs to take long afternoon naps? He's fixated on "the good old days"? He's out of touch with what younger people want? He's too physically feeble to handle the pressures of the job? What negative assumptions -- spoken or unspoken -- go with the criticism that "he's too old"?

What I find ironic about this statement is that is reeks of prejudice, though the people who use it most often see themselves as the champions of fair play and tolerance. In our youth-obsessed culture, we have programmed ourselves to see any signs of aging as something abhorrent--so we fight every gray hair, every wrinkle, every sagging muscle that is a normal part of living past 30. We go to extraordinary lengths, and even to great expense, to stave off the appearance of growing older.

However, in fighting these exterior signs of age, we lose sight of the benefits living a long time may bring to the soul and spirit. We devalue the wisdom that comes from life's experiences -- wisdom that is often hard-won as we deal with a host of circumstances and tragedies beyond our control, as well as the lessons we learn in the aftermath of our own decisions, whether wise or foolish (and if you live long enough, you'll have a fair number of both). 

Not all cultures share our disdain for older people. In fact, when I go to Africa, I'm amazed at the respect I'm shown simply because I'm "old" -- which isn't a derogatory word to them as it is in our culture. In fact, my gray hair is seen as a sign of my wisdom. It is, in the words of Solomon, my "crown of glory" (Proverbs 16:31). 

So, the next time you hear someone criticize Senator McCain's age, realize that it's simply a sign of the last acceptable prejudice in America -- ageism -- and resist it. You are within your rights to criticize him for his beliefs and his stand on the issues. But his age -- as with Senator Obama's race -- should not be part of the debate.

(Image © AP)

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Comments

Jason Taylor


It is perfectly legitimate to ask about factors that might rationally be expected to hinder a President's functional capability and we are right to do so. If he was calling himself experienced that would be legitimate. Therefore why should he not be called overworn by his opponents? There have to be criteria for choosing people for a job as important as that of President and the advantages and disadvantages that come with age are more rational then most.
Besides, McCain is a tough old bird and I am sure he can take care of himself.

Chris Clukey

I agree with Jason. McCain's age is as much a legitimate issue as Obama's inexperience is. That said, it appears that he is as healthy and mentally sharp as any 60 year old.

By the way, I think this is a good place to point out that Senator Obama was literally still in diapers when Senator McCain was sitting alert in Syraiders on USS Intrepid and USS Enterprise. And he began flying combat missions when Obama was a kindergartener. And he was released from the Hanoi Hilton when Obama was a pre-teen. And he was elected to the Senate when Obama was in pre-law.

Just sayin' is all...

dennis babish

I think age is not a legitimate issue with one exception.
You must be at least 35 to be President.
A candidate's health and mental sharpness are legitimate issues but not because of someone's age. Obama could be less healthy and less mentally up to the task than McCain.
Age is not relevant.
Franklin Roosevelt was only 51 when he became President and died at the age of 63. His health was alot worse than either candidate today and yet he was President for 4 terms.

Chris Clukey

Dennis, you are correct. I was basically saying the same thing but phrased it so badly it looks like I'm saying "McCain is old and it's an issue."

As you point out, age matters little if the candidate's mental and physical health are good, and sometimes a relatively young person can have terrible health problems. Plus, there's the matter of how someone maintains their health. President Bush and Congressman Jerrold Nadler are both 61 years old, but if Bush was running for a third term and Nadler was the Democratic nominee, there'd be no question which one would be more likely to have a major health problem in office.

I predict Obama supporters will continue to raise the age issue, and McCain supporters will continue to raise the inexperience issue. I think inexperience is more likely to stick, and age is much more likely to backfire, because the elderly vote is much larer than the youth vote.

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