McCain: The age question

How old is old?

The 2008 Democratic primaries “ripped the scabs off two of the biggest ‘isms’ around—sexism and racism,” said Kirsten Powers in USA Today. With the general election now upon us, a third “lurks in the shadows: ageism.” Republican John McCain would be, at 72, the oldest newly elected president in American history, while Barack Obama, at 47, would be one of the youngest. With such a glaring age gap, McCain has tried to defuse the age issue with humor—recently joking that he has “the oldness it takes to protect America.” But there is a serious subtext, and last week, the issue came into play after the McCain camp complained that Obama advisors were employing “code words” when they said McCain appeared to be “confused” and “losing his bearings” while discussing Iraq. In some ways, said Adam Nagourney in The New York Times, age is an even trickier issue than race or gender, because it’s such a fluid concept. “Who among us really thinks of himself or herself as old, with all it connotes: memory lapses, slowed reflexes, and—wait, how did this sentence start again?”

Very funny, but the fact that we are so quick to joke about aging is part of the problem, said Thomas Tryon in Sarasota, Fla., Herald-Tribune. It’s fine to criticize McCain because of his record or his platform. But “age-based stereotypes” should no more be acceptable than those based on race or gender. True enough, said Bud Jackson in, but that doesn’t mean McCain’s age should be a verboten topic. “I’m not a doctor, but common sense instructs us that the risks associated with aging increases the odds of a serious health or mental impairment,” to say nothing of death. Why shouldn’t this “potential disruption of leadership” be a factor when considering whom to entrust with the enormously demanding job of president?

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