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Friday, 04 January 2013

Ageist Politics

category_bug_ageism.gif As the debate on the fiscal cliff was winding down toward the deadline earlier this week, Representative Steve LaTourette (R–OH) is said to have told his Congressional colleagues:

“We should not take a package put together by a bunch of sleep-deprived octogenarians on New Year’s Eve.”

Unable to contain his glee, Ezra Klein - the overexposed Washington Post blogger, Bloomberg columnist and MSNBC analyst who has a facility for regurgitating huge amounts of information without the time, patience or depth (take your pick) for useful interpretation – tweeted this:

Klein Congress Tweet

The best part -well, of course. What good is an ageist quip without piling on further? There are many ways to mock those we disagree with, dislike or want to diminish in the eyes of others but it is amazing how often old folks “jokes” are first choice.

No one ever characterizes the young or mid-aged in such a stereotyped manner.

But it's not only so-called jokes. Everyday language about old people in Washington often belittles us too. Just yesterday morning on one of the political chat shows, Representative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla) who is also chair of the Democratic National Committee said that “we must take care of our seniors.”

Our seniors. It's a common phrase among politicians, particularly the ones who mean well toward us. Like others in Washington, President Barack Obama frequently speaks of “our seniors” too. It's as though we are the nation's pets who, like our dogs, cats and birds, need the benevolence of our "owners" to make the important decisions for us.

The politicians aren't alone. Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Rachel Maddow, Chuck Todd (who I generally like) and many other media figures who specialize in politics regularly disparage elders with one-liners, rolling eyes and general dismissiveness they believe is acceptable.

And it is. Because no one ever calls them on it. Some elders don't even recognize any of this as ageism because it is not as shocking as the N-word. But it is equally damaging.

Certainly you and I, at our ages, don't need to be told that those who intend harm to a certain group of people, first demonize them. Keep that in mind when the “entitlement” fight comes up soon.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Joanne Zimmermann: The Magic of Thanksgiving


Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

You’re reaching here, Ronni. Which term are you objecting to – ‘sleep-deprived’ or ‘octogenarians’? Both fit many Congresscritters.

‘Our’ is a term of inclusiveness, not derision. We talk of ‘our’ servicemen and ‘our’ teachers but I don’t personally own a single serviceman or teacher.

I agree with your good fight against derogatory terms used against old people. It is verbal bullying and should be stopped. But I do believe you saw something in this particular shadow that isn’t there.

While I agree that stereotyping is unacceptable at any age, I did not find the term "our seniors" offensive. I do agree that it is condescending, but I took it in the spirit in which it was offered. Debbie was being protective of our age group and god knows, we need more like her. I think we have bigger issues to focus on. I read that there was a sneaky provision in the Biden/McConnell agreement that worries me. If true, they agreed to eliminating the home health care provision from the ACA. I must research that, as I have only seen it in one article.

Correction: I should have said 'patronizing' instead of 'condescending'. Maybe I'm getting old. (How's that for an ageist remark?)

Ronni:
I know where you're coming from and where you want to go, but without agreeing or disagreeing, let me play devil's advocate.
Politicians also voice bromides like "We have to take care of our children now, if we want them to have a better tomorrow."
A lot of your ire has to do with the tone of voice in which public figures mouth "our" seniors.
Societal attitudes toward groups, whether they be minorities or not (and old people are running away from minority designation), take ages to change; how long have feminists been objecting to being designated as "girls," instead of women?
I agree: old fart jokes, like blond jokes, are morally indefensible, perpetuating the concept of the "other," but all real change is incremental, unless it's revolutionary. Wait a minute! Can we...?

I must disagree, too, Ronni. Would you have objected or even given it a second thought if Wasserman-Shultz had said, "We must take care of "our children"? Or "our soldiers"? And Klein's remark, it seems to me, was intended to disparage the Senate in particular, not seniors in general.

I'm opposed to the inaccuracy, not the terminology. The vast majority of our Congress people are quinquagenarian and sexagenarian - not octogenarian.

We seniors ARE a substantial segment of this society, so an occasional snarky reference is going to creep into commentary. We can take it.

I suspect the underlying meme that sets some of us off in references to "our seniors" (or "our minorities" or "our disadvantaged") is the whiff of paternalism. I've come to understand that both the best and the worst of the President carries a paternal streak that I recoil from. Best: eulogy at Sandy Hook. Worst: father-knows-best flavor of his insistence on a "grand bargain" that unnecessarily spreads pain far and wide. .

We the citizens are not children. We resent having our politicians speak and act as if they could think for us.

I don't like the term "seniors" when referring to an entire class of people (excluding those still in high school or college). As a former journalist, I and others on the agebeat tried to gain acceptance for the term "elders" but until Rachel, Chuck, Jon, Stephen, Chris, Brian and the others at the top of the media heap do the same, we will be stuck with the condescension. Maybe AARP could take up the cudgel -- after all, they did get rid of "retired" when they adopted the acronymn as its official name.

What do we call ourselves?
I am not particulary happy with "senior", or the patronizing "our seniors", or with "elder". I think many associate the word "elder" with someone ancient and wise. How many of us are that? Can't we just be "old" or "older"?

Part of the definitions in the dictionary I have refer to senior as being a person with a higher standing or rank. I'll take that. As opposed to sophomoric definition, conceited, overconfident of knowledge but poorly informed and immature. I don't like to hear deamining terms regarding seniors or anyone.
I do pay attention to what I hear and read and consider the source. I have good memory and will apply what needs to be done when the opportunity presents itself as in the voting booth.
I frankly like to be referred to as a senior period.

Ageism doesn't bother me because I feel it's something everyone is going to experience (if they are lucky). Definitely different than racism or sexism. I am sixty and I know I am not as mentally sharp or physically fit as I was even 10 years ago. If I was having surgery I would certainly prefer a doctor who was 50 vs. 75. I love Hillary Clinton but I think in 2016 she will be too old to run for president, same with Joe Biden. It's just a fact of life, we slow down physically and mentally as we age, you can try to fight it but it's a losing battle. I intend just to kick back and enjoy my later years.

"The lady doth protest too much, methinks."

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