Should McCain's Age Be On The Table?
by Todd Beeton, Mon Jul 07, 2008 at 09:22:01 AM EDT
There tends to be quite a lot of pearl clutching by the left when it comes to the suggestion that Democrats are subtly exploiting John McCain's age for political gain that seems rooted in a sort of knee-jerk political correctness. Now, sure, if we were talking about simply associating age and confusion or age and incompetence, I'd perhaps be crying "ageism" too, but we're not judging McCain for any old job here; he's auditioning for the Presidency of the United States. As Anna Quindlen reminded us earlier this year, there are age caps for other jobs that require mental sharpness without much of an outcry.
It's significant that while the old mandatory retirement age of 65 has been largely junked, there are still age limits for jobs like airline pilot or police officer, the kinds of jobs that require some of the same skills as the presidency--unwavering mental acuity and physical energy.
Political operatives say that his age makes McCain's choice of a running mate particularly critical. But if you enter the process stressing a hedge against mortality or incapacity, shouldn't that suggest something about suitability for the job in the first place?
And let's not be naive; John McCain will do everything in his power to exploit the positive associations his age bring him, namely experience, for his own political gain. So forgive me if I'm a bit more tolerant than some of making McCain's age an issue. Not only has McCain himself remarked on it repeatedly, but also "old" is literally the word that people associate with McCain most often when asked to describe him.
From a AP/Yahoo News poll:
Ask people to blurt out their first words about the two presidential candidates and one in five say "change" or "outsider" for Barack Obama and "old" for John McCain, according to an Associated Press-Yahoo News poll released Monday. Those are not only the top responses for each man but the ones used most often since January, when fewer than one in 10 volunteered those descriptions. [...]
In addition, respondents who are either undecided or say they could change their minds are as likely as everyone else to volunteer "old" when describing McCain -- not the attribute his campaign wants them focused on. So do one in seven independents, a significant number.
And people who in January did not provide a word for McCain now offer "old" far more often than anything else -- hinting that those paying little attention to the campaign six months ago are now struck by McCain's age.
Notice that the context of the poll doesn't make a judgment as to whether "old" is a plus or a minus but the article presumes the campaign sees it as a negative.
For me, one of the more compelling reasons it should not be off the table and why so-called ageism is nowhere near the level of sexism or racism on the inappropriate exploitation scale is that the ones who are most likely to cite McCain's age as a disqualifier...are the aged themselves.
"My husband and I are about the same age as McCain, and I don't think we'd be in a position to take this country in the direction it needs to go," said Rosemary Bates, 65, of Barre, Vt., an Obama supporter. "We've grown up in a different era. Something is not working and it needs to be changed."
John Murtha put it this way in April:
Democratic Rep. John Murtha said Wednesday that Republican Sen. John McCain is too old to be president. Murtha is 75, four years older than McCain. He says they are nearly the same age, and the rigors and stress of running the country is too much for guys their age. [...]
"This one guy running is about as old as me," he said, drawing laughter and applause. "Let me tell you something, it's no old man's job."
Now I'm not saying that Democrats should launch a campaign against McCain that accuses him of being old and hence unfit to be president. But considering McCain wears his age on his sleeve and even jokes about it, and people already hold pre-conceived concerns about it, I think playing into those fears, if only subtly, should absolutely be one of the arrows in our quiver.