Getting Old
The last acceptable discrimination.


Myrna Blyth

There is no doubt that one prejudice will raise its ugly head during the presidential campaign — indeed, it already has, in an oped by Charles M. Blow in Saturday’s New York Times. Blow seems to be an occasional Times columnist, though I have never before noticed his byline, and he was spouting on about John McCain’s age in the guise of advising the candidate how to handle this “hurdle.”

Blow starts by telling us his mother is six years younger than McCain, and that she retired from her job seven years ago. His mom isn’t running for president, but this gives him “context” for considering McCain’s age. And McCain’s age gives Blow “pause.” Because Blow has a mom who quit work in her late 50s, anybody who keeps working after that is a bit suspicious.

Later in the piece Blow advises McCain to stop making jokes about his age. “Bad idea,” he writes:

(Imagine Barack Obama making a string of self-deprecating black jokes.

See, bad idea.

True enough, but Blow, by generalizing from his mother, is showing the same kind of prejudice. And nowadays that is certainly not acceptable. Can you imagine Blow writing: “My mother is Irish and always had a drinking problem. McCain is Irish. Thinking about what his drinking habits might be gives me ‘pause.’”

But the Times has published Blow’s seemingly acceptable op-ed, which sneers at McCain’s “joshing grandpa shtick” and compares McCain’s “wispy comb-over,” “stilted grin,” and “blank expressions’ to those of the “cover boy” the “camera loves.”

Oh, maybe there’s more to this than ageism. Maybe Blow is trying to contend with Maureen Dowd for this month’s New York Times Let’s Make Fun of Anyone But Obama Award. But yes, ageism is going to be a problem in this race, and it is going to be out in the open. It remains one of the very few prejudices, perhaps the only one, that people can still talk about without embarrassment.

And yet if McCain is elected at 72, it would reflect a great and important story of our time. For the fact is that a mass of people, the largest in history, are growing older and staying healthy and vital. This is the newest experience on earth, and the statistics are astounding. Someone is turning 60 every eleven seconds these days, and the Census Bureau notes that at 65, any given American has a very good chance to live another 20, even 30 years. McCain’s elegant mom is a spry 96.

So let’s call the hand-wringing about McCain’s age from now on exactly what it is: the ugly, uninformed prejudice of ageism that should go the way of other ill-informed prejudices. Especially at a time when economists say people will have to work longer to sustain themselves for the many years of life they will probably enjoy — when older Americans volunteer to work longer and harder to give us the benefit of their experience, we should not criticize their inclination. Rather, we should applaud it.

And, as for me, this time around I am not all that attracted by a “cover boy.” I guess I am too old for that, but I do like the idea of having a president who’s older than I am.

– Myrna Blyth, long-time editor of Ladies Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness – and Liberalism – to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.