Never Ending Ageism
A Good Death

Presidential Candidates Ignoring Their Age Peers

As Marc Freedman, the founder and CEO of noted in The Wall Street Journal last week, with the exception of Ted Cruz, age 45, all the remaining candidates of both parties are old enough for Social Security.

Bernie Sanders – 74
Donald Trump - 69
Hillary Clinton - 68
John Kasich – 63 (okay, early Social Security in his case)

Before I go any further, I must take a moment to throw some kudos to Mr. Freedman for this important statement in his WSJ piece (emphasis is mine):

”...what about the vast majority of the older population who are neither frail nor dependent, who are far from being elderly.”

Words matter, and he is the only person writing about elders I can recall – in the media in general but also among many who work in the ageing business – who does not use the word “elderly” to mean old people. Elderly means, as his sentence makes clear, “frail and dependent.” We must stop using it as a synonym for old.

The point of Freedman's essay is that although there has been, refreshingly, no pejorative discussion this election season of the candidates' ages, neither have any of them spoken up about the unprecedented and ongoing demographic increase of the nation's – and the world's – oldest citizens.

They have all failed, says Freedman – and I agree – to show any leadership for this revolutionary change in population numbers, addressing only (and barely as far as I can see) what he calls the “liability lens” - illness, dependency, caregiving, Social Security and Medicare.

What Freedman is looking for from the candidates is support for longer working lives for elders who want it and for the millions who, like the candidates, would welcome the chance to continue serving to society but lack the resources of the candidates.

”Can you imagine Clinton, Sanders, Trump, Kasich or Bloomberg characterizing themselves as 'seniors' and 'elderly'? asks Freedman. “A great many in the candidates' cohort don't identify with these labels, or associations they conjure.

“Yet the candidates have largely missed an opportunity to use their own age to argue for the power of experience and potential contribution of their many peers-citizens who have much to offer at a time that was once associated with being put out to pasture.”

None of this, certainly, is to ignore the importance of policy positions on Social Security and Medicare which are still woefully missing from candidates on the campaign trail. But I strongly suspect that if Freedman's appeal to Clinton, Sanders, Kasich and Trump were to be answered, fixes to earned benefits would naturally follow.

Perhaps a place for the candidates to start is the bully pulpit, to speak directly to their age-mates, explaining that they understand experience isn't always views as an asset in today's society, but that the nation needs us...

“Assuming this leadership might not only help the candidates win the support of a demographic group that will be influential come November, but launch a much-needed debate in America: one focused on how we can make the most of a new era of longer lives.

“That's a question with the potential to reshape what it means to grow older – as individuals and as a nation – for generations to come.”

That's not ignoring other age groups. It is about elders contributing to business, paying taxes, participating in volunteer opportunities that benefit everyone for as long as they desire to do so and are able. There is no down side to this.


I agree, a lot of us in our 60s and early 70s contribute by volunteering, often in fairly significant ways. That's a fine and worthwhile thing to do. But we should also have the option to do similar work for at least some pay, to recognize us for our time and effort and expertise, and not incidentally, to allow us to supplement our Social Security and IRAs and help us financially support a retirement that may last 20 or 30 years.


It's not news that political leaders have frequently been older—think FDR, Churchill, St.Laurent. We seem to have accepted (and expected) that older meant wiser, and therefore more capable to lead counties, and make decisions that affected the world. It's hard to understand why that acceptance has not been extended to the rest of the population. Hmmm, okay for the old to be leaders, but not productive in any other area of life. Makes no sense!

@Still the Lucky Few: It makes sense from the point of view of the leaders, though, and they're the ones who, well... lead, right? Leading involves setting the tone, among other things, so what they think matters!

And becoming a leader seems to require a certain minimum level of self-centeredness. People don't generally manage to climb that ladder without believing at their core that they are different, better, more competent to be in charge, than everyone else.

So when they get old, they're bound to think: "It's okay for ME to be technically old yet more important in the world than I ever was before... because I'm different. I'm me. I'm special, I'm not really old. I have plenty of good years left, and I've learned so much. I'm more qualified to lead than I've ever been before! But all those other old people? Look at them! What can they contribute any more? They're, like... OLD."

You gave me my big guffaw for the day, Sylvia! Of course, political leaders need to be incredibly self centered and egotistical to even get beyond the first nomination! As for the rest of us, unless we are endowed with remarkable artistic ability and already famous, we are left with, as you say...being old!

I've checked with three highly respected dictionaries (Oxford English Dictionary, Random House College Dictionary and Websters) and none of them give any other meaning for 'elderly' than simply somebody who is past middle aged and getting towards old. There is never any mention of 'frail' or 'dependent'. In fact one of the sample sentences from the Oxford dictionary is
"It was being driven by an elderly lady with grey hair and had a female passenger with long, dark hair." If she's driving, she's hardly either frail or dependent. So where do you get this idea that 'elderly' is a pejorative term for someone in their 60s or 70s?

I agree with Sylvia about leaders' opinion of themselves. It would be nice if they thought equally highly of their age-mates. With the exception of Drumpf (who seems to view the Presidency as another season of "The Apprentice"), the winning candidate will likely look to those age 50+ when it comes to Cabinet and Supreme Court appointments. Still, a great majority of older Americans are sidelined at 65 or before, despite the fact that some may want/need to work longer to help finance another 20-35+ years of life. In general, we're not very well prepared individually, financially or societally for "old-old" age, however that is defined.

While the original meaning of "elderly" was neutral and not intended to demean older people, in my view current usage tends to associate that term with "frail and dependent". It promotes viewing older people primarily through a "liability lens" as Freedman notes in his article. I've long believed that many businesses do a great disservice to their own bottom line by overlooking the needs and purchasing power of consumers over 65. Likewise, society throws away so much ability, experience, dedication and willingness to work when it refuses to recognize that a large percentage of elders are not "elderly".

People in various places use words differently, of course, and my experience falls in line with Marian Van Eyk McCain's. For years I've tried to get management in the organization with which I volunteer (a lot!) to not mentally equate 'elderly' to 'frail' or 'dependent'. The organization proudly proclaims that 94% of the work is done by volunteers. News flash: The cohort with time to volunteer is heavily weighted toward the elderly population. "Elderly" isrefers to an age bracket much as "teen" does, in my experience.

Elizabeth, I love Drumpf. Did you coin it or did you find it somewhere?
It sounds like one of Snow White's less mentally endowed elves who has run amok.

Politicians play to the masses and, more importantly, they play to the needs and wants of that community. Unfortunately, the majority of American voters don't care that much about Social Security, life extension, death with dignity or health care as much as seniors do.
As I have always said, we are our own worst enemies. Seniors just have not been as vocal about their desires as many of the other so-called special interest groups.

Great comment, Elizabeth Rogers.

I believe Drumpf is the family (from the Netherlands?) that eventually & probably during immigration, became Trump. I know I've been told that by a very knowledgeable person in my family. I'll have to do my own research. Dee :)

Estelle D and others...

I think many of us were introduced to the "Drumpf" name via Ronni's post on March 1st. Well worth looking up if you missed it!

A TGB EXTRA: John Oliver Takes on Donald Trump
Tuesday, 01 March 2016

If 'elderly' is, as some say, being used in ways that depart from its original meaning, then let's reclaim it. After all, we are working hard to reclaim 'old' and 'elder' and some of us old women are having a great time reclaiming 'crone'.

I think Bernie has targeted increases in social security benefits and getting rid of"windfall" acts, which adversely affect people in several states who are entitled to both social security and a small government pension. Interestingly, I attended a local rally for Bernie in January and it appeared that the audience was mostly made up of oldies like me and kids in their 20s. It makes sense - both the young and the elders are suffering in this economy.


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