Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Crazy Old or Just Crazy

I have occasionally (well, maybe more than that) mentioned that John McCain is old. Really old. Really, really old. See, e.g., my post on an earlier SNL skit, The Crazy Old Hothead. McCain himself acknowledged is ancientness in his recent appearance on SNL.

In a recent post, A Whiter Shade Of Pale, which discussed his release of medical records, I queried whether McCain doesn't know (or doesn't remember) the difference between a release and a review, since his disclosure of records was less than forthcoming -- particularly in light of the many delays in their production. In that essay, I explained the reason for my continual ageist comments:

I mock McCain's age as much and as often as I can, because I don't want him to miss out on his share of stereotypical remarks, compared to the sexist and racist comments that continually pepper the Democratic side. The truth is that age, like sex and race, don't much matter to me in selecting the next president. Competency, intelligence and political policy matter greatly to me. McCain's conservatism and lack of ethics are what really count in counting him out for me. Age is just the fun way of expressing that.

In a more scholarly vein, Political writer Dick Polman discusses the age issue in a column, The Age Factor, noting that with the focus at the moment on the Clinton-Obama battle, McCain's age hasn't been emphasized much, other than as the subject of jokes. However, that doesn't mean that it isn't an issue, as he observes:

Indeed, virtually every poll suggests that, at least with respect to the burdens of the presidency, Americans don't necessarily buy the notion that 70 is the new 60. The nonpartisan Pew Research Center has served up some startling figures: 50 percent of registered voters say they're less likely to support a candidate in his 70s. That's higher than the share of voters who would be less likely to support a Muslim (48 percent), or a gay (46 percent), or a Mormon (32 percent). That poll didn't mention McCain by name, but Pew did so in a separate survey - which found that 19 percent of Republicans deem him too old for the job.

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Indeed, McCain himself has mentioned the age factor. In March 2000, as his first candidacy was flaming out, he signaled he was reluctant to run again: "If I were 43 or 53, it might be different. But I'm 63, a pretty old geezer."

In addition, the reality is that because of his age, you want to be sure that he's in good health. The fact that McCain has been less than fully forthcoming about his current medical history makes one concerned about what is being hidden or obfuscated. The GOP excels at that, so one just has to wonder. Clearly, if all's truly well, I would have to believe that they would disclose everything -- just to put the issue behind them. One area that is especially relates to the state of his mental state. Shaun Mullen discusses this aspect in detain at Limited Medical Records Release Shows Why McCain's Mental Health Is An Issue.

Assuming that his health isn't an issue, "age" stills comes into play. As Polman notes:

In the end, McCain's biological age in 2008 is far less important than his metaphorical age. That is really the crux of his challenge this fall. An older candidate can win if his message is perceived as new; Reagan won a landslide reelection in 1984, despite some qualms about his age, because his "Morning in America" image was perceived as fresher than Walter Mondale's old-style liberal politics.

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McCain's challenge is to escape Dole's fate. Potentially, the melanoma scar on the left side of his face is far less politically threatening than the scars left by the Bush era. Voters may not necessarily debate whether McCain seems too exhausted for the strenuous presidency - but they might focus on whether McCain is too closely affiliated with an administration that has left America exhausted by war and incompetence, and thus too rooted to the old ideas. Showing up on Saturday Night Live, and hobnobbing 10 times (so far) with the host on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, may not prove to be enough.

Obama has indeed taken some subliminal swipes at McCain's age; his frequent lauding of McCain for his "lifetime of service" is the rhetorical equivalent of praising grandpa at the assisted-living facility. But Obama's broader intention is to capture the metaphor, framing himself as messenger of the future and McCain as embodiment of the past. The prevailing political climate might well buoy his efforts.

In other words, his McSameness may be more difficult to overcome than his McOldy. However, I still say it's more fun to make fun of his age, as David Letterman also apparently does, see e.g., How about that John McCain?.

If you do too, don't miss these blogs dedicated to John (He's So Old) McCain:

Things younger than Republican Presidential candidate (oh, and did I forget to mention war hero?) John McCain and John McCain Is So Old …

(Cartoon via Nate Beeler, Washington Examiner)

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