“Each time I’m described as middle-aged the 25-year-old still living in me lets out a scream.
“Granted, I now have a perspective, a wisdom, a more comprehensive body of knowledge, if only I could remember it. But words elude me occasionally, which is challenging for a wordsmith. More important, there’s a certain spark that now smolders sometimes. So where’s the sweet spot, that moment when the timeline of experience intersects perfectly with the trajectory of excitement? It’s different times for different people, but it seldom occurs late in life.”
That’s Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Anna Quindlen in the last week's issue of Newsweek arguing that Senator John McCain is too old to be president while projecting onto Mr. McCain her reluctance to come to terms with her own aging.
Ms. Quindlen, who is in her mid-fifties, appears to believe the myth that aging is about nothing but decline and that physical infirmity should bar one from high office. Tell that to Franklin Roosevelt, whose domestic agenda did more good for the American people than any ten other presidents put together.
A large part of her argument depends on the fact that Senator McCain “…takes the stairs slowly and cannot lift his arms to comb his hair.” I’m unaware that those “infirmities,” as Ms. Quindlen labels them, affect his mind and in fact, are not related to age at all.
When McCain’s A-4 Skyhawk was shot down over Vietnam in 1967, both arms and a leg were broken, he nearly drowned in the lake where he landed and the mob that then attacked him crushed his shoulders and broke several ribs. He was denied medical care for a week or more until the Vietnamese discovered McCain’s father was a top admiral. And all that was before the torture began.
To equate the results of McCain’s war injuries with mental incapacity is worse than nonsense; it is shameful and reflects the writer’s ageism.
Ms. Quindlen also notes that if Senator McCain is elected he will be, at 72, more than two years older than President Reagan when he entered office - as if this is an important difference. As often noted here, people age at dramatically different rates and times in their lives and the current U.S. average age at death is about 77. That’s average and I haven’t noticed Senator McCain nodding off during speeches as former President Clinton – age 61 – was recently caught on camera doing.
Senator McCain is not my choice for president, but it’s not his age that disqualifies him for me and it should not be for anyone else. If a widely-read, national columnist dissects a candidate's qualifications for office, she has an obligation to know what she's talking about or at least acknowledge her personal prejudices if she can't disregard them.
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Georgie Bright Kunkel does some thinking about First Ladies and Maybe Even First Gentlemen.]