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The late-night TV hosts haven't let up on ageist jokes about 71-year-old, Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain. What’s doubly awful about them is that some are funny in the sense of being well-crafted jokes with a good, surprise punch line. One of Jay Leno’s makes me laugh every time I think of it (it’s hard to forget), and every time I do, I’m ashamed of myself.
That the jokes are funny is what’s so insidious about them. When we laugh, we feel good which takes the sting out of disrespect and prejudice. And if those likable, late-night guys say these things, a certain number of people believe it must be acceptable.
And thereby, ageism spreads.
Although the news media isn’t telling jokes about it, age is on their minds too and they appear to believe that “elderly” is the proper word to describe older voters. I caught Keith Olberman, Chuck Todd and some others on MSNBC who were reporting the primary returns from Pennsylvania Tuesday night referring to the “elderly vote,” not realizing for a nanosecond that the word is offensive to many elders.
It’s an ongoing battle, that word “elderly”, which I’ll let go for today to take up cudgels against a newspaper column (brought to my attention by Marion Dent of As the Beat Goes On) written by Dick Morris and Eileen McGann. It was published yesterday in the New York Post, on Morris’s website, at other places around the web and in whatever number of newspapers carry his syndicated column.
You remember Dick Morris, don’t you? He was Bill Clinton’s trusted advisor and 1996 presidential campaign manager until he was forced to resign (on the very day Clinton was accepting the nomination on the stage of the Democratic National Convention) for allowing a prostitute to listen in on his telephone conversations with then-President Clinton. It's said she was naked during these calls which gives a more literal meaning to bare-faced political lies than we are usually accustomed to.
Since then, Morris has published a book or two critical of the Clintons and these days, he uses his newspaper column to trash Senator Hillary Clinton. But elders are taking a licking too as Morris uses us as a club with which to bludgeon Hillary.
Here are some excerpts from yesterday’s column about Senator Clinton’s prospects for the Democratic nomination following the Pennsylvania primary. Morris begins almost blandly, noting that “…the Keystone State electorate is dominated by the elderly who are staunchly for Clinton.” Then:
“Older voters are flocking to Clinton as fears mount of what Obama might do as president mount (sic). But those under 45 – less focused, perhaps, on race – are moving toward Obama.”
“Of the 50 states, only Florida has a higher over-65 proportion of its population. But there’s a key difference: Florida’s elderly moved there – Pennsylvania’s are the folks that are left after the young people moved away.
“Pennsylvania Democrats, in other words, suffer from future shock. They welcome old, established ways and embrace dynasties happily because they are so familiar.”
“But don’t expect the open primaries of Indiana and North Carolina to behave like Pennsylvania’s geriatrics. Both states are younger.”
So according to Dick Morris, elders as a group are feeble, racist troglodytes, but at least there aren’t enough of them to do harm to the Obama vote in two upcoming primaries.
It’s been a long time since we have used it, but this foul stuff begs for the "patented TGB Bias Test" wherein we substitute the word women or blacks for old. Obama would be spending the rest of this week defending himself again for another person's words if Morris had written:
OlderWomen voters are flocking to Clinton as fears mount of what Obama might do as president mount (sic). But those under 45men – less focused, perhaps, on race – are moving toward Obama.”
Democratsblacks, in other words, suffer from future shock. They welcome old, established ways and embrace dynasties happily because they are so familiar.”
Dick Morris can be dismissed as a bottom-feeder and I hold his editors accountable for allowing his slime to be published. Political demographics, including age, can be discussed without embedded bigotry.
Ageist rhetoric will only get worse when the general election campaign gets underway. I doubt either an Obama or Clinton campaign will be able to resist using Senator McCain's age against him. So it will get ugly while at the late-night shows, the age-joke beat goes on.
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Norm Jenson walks us through the marital experience of Shopping Alone - or not.]