[Before I even get started on this post, you should know that I support Senator Barack Obama for president and strongly oppose Senator John McCain. At a future date, I will post my reasons which have everything to do with policy and positions and nothing to do with either senator’s chronological age.]
As if the late-night comedy shows were not already doing a yeoman’s job of promulgating ageist jokes about Senator John McCain, now there’s a website devoted to bashing the presidential candidate based on his age alone - John McCain. Old. Really Old.
Here is a list of the home page navigation links:
And these are the choices in an online poll asking: How would you describe John McCain:
When I first looked at the website, I thought maybe I’m humor-impaired. But on further reading, I dismissed that idea. It is ageist through and through.
If there were (and who knows, there may be) a site similarly devoted only to the color of Senator Obama’s skin, cable news would headline it every hour and civil rights groups would organize petitions. But there is no media commentary on this anti-McCain website, no civil rights activity and the two or three newspaper pieces on McCain age jokes nearly every night on Leno, Letterman and O’Brian have been little more than an excuse to repeat the jokes.
Early on in this campaign, I believed the issue of Senator McCain’s age would be a positive force for a public debate about ageism and a chance to help educate the nation on the value and importance of elders in a culture that mostly rejects that truth.
I was wrong. McCain’s age has become, instead, a point of derision of the senator and nowhere in mainstream media has there been a serious story, seriously researched about ageism, its real-life manifestations and the tyranny it imposes on old people. (Stay tuned, however. That may change soon and I’ll let you know.)
So, should Senator McCain’s age be a factor in anyone's thinking while making the decision on whom to vote for? Certainly. But there are two ways to approach it – one is reasonable and one is not.
Poor health can be, but is not always, associated with old age. You might be concerned about Senator McCain’s health and how that could affect his performance as president. He released 1300 pages of medical records (although only for a few minutes and none could be photocopied by the limited number of reporters who were allowed to see them), and he has a long history of cancer. But there are millions of cancer survivors and millions of old people live with manageable chronic conditions that do not impair their job performance. Still, if McCain's health is your concern, it is a reasonable consideration.
Reports of Senator McCain’s temper tantrums have been attributed to his age. I reject that reason, but the issue is worth considering. Maybe it worries you to have a president who easily flies off the handle. The kind of intemperate attack ads he has recently produced on Senator Obama are something some might like to think about too, although they are hardly new to presidential politics.
There is a growing list of factual errors in Senator McCain’s speeches, interviews and town hall meetings. Are they due to age? Lack of knowledge? Or can they be dismissed as slips anyone would make under the pressure of non-stop campaigning for the past 21 months? These are reasonable questions to ask when making a decision about whom to vote for.
And, elders have a unique perspective younger people do not in weighing Senator McCain’s age in terms of the stamina required to handle the daily work of what is often called the hardest job in the world. We know how we are different from our younger selves, we live it every day and some voters may want to apply that experience to deciding whether to vote for McCain. Although I doubt the daily work of being president takes any more stamina than the pressures of a full-time election campaign.
These are all reasonable issues to consider in regard to McCain’s candidacy.
Unreasonable is the non-stop barrage of old-age jokes, the assertion that McCain could die in office and the attacks with derisive adjectives as on this anti-McCain website.
Ageist jokes have been around for decades on greeting cards, in cartoons and many comedians’ repertoires. They reinforce already entrenched ageism which leads to age discrimination in the workplace that, according to filings with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, is up 20 percent over the past year. Also, it is well-documented that some elders are treated less aggressively by the health community just because they are old. Ageist jokes targeting McCain are not funny, they are prejudicial and they have real-world consequences including unfair dismissal of McCain's candidacy based only on his age.
Another unreasonable attack is that if elected, McCain might die in office. And so might anyone else. But age didn’t stop the British from re-electing Winston Churchill prime minister at age 77, nor the Germans electing Konrad Adenauer chancellor at age 73 and the French electing Charles de Gaulle president at age 68. All served out their full terms.
And what if a President McCain (or any president) were to die in office? That’s what vice presidents are for. The number of Senator McCain’s years should not deter anyone who believes he is the better choice from voting for him.
All the nasty adjectives referring to Senator McCain’s age should be condemned as fast and furiously as the nation would respond to anyone who used equivalent terms referring to Senator Obama’s skin color. That few do and that this anti-McCain website continues to publish reflects the widespread belief in the United States that it is all right to discriminate against someone based on age alone. And that is morally reprehensible. It denigrates not only Senator McCain, but every old person too. Where is the outrage?
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ellen Younkins gets poetic about My House.]