The Corner

Ageism v. Racism

A reader asks:



I know we are supposed to be above the whole “politics of victimhood” thing … but at what point does the question of ageism come into the equation?  If the McCain campaign were to produce an ad highlighting Barack’s blackness (for lack of a better term) — perhaps showing footage of the downtrodden Chicago “community” that he organized, some images of his brother living in a hut in Africa, etc — we would see outrage of epic proportions.  But for them to use John McCain’s age against him like this is just fair game?


Your thoughts, please!

Me: I think we need to disentangle some things. I definitely think the Obama campaign flirts with ageism (though I despise the word). And sometimes they even cross the line, by my lights. But ageism isn’t wholly offensive. I practice ageism every time I help my elderly neighbor with her groceries. McCain’s age is a legitimate issue.  But it can be exploited in illegitimate ways. For example, if the Obama campaign starts suggesting that McCain’s mentally unfit to be president, that crosses a line. Some think Obama is trying to do just that.  Clearly the establishment media doesn’t. Then again, if Obama ran an ad with a McCain look-alike actor — maybe Uncle Junior from the Sopranos — in a diaper drooling strained beats down his chest at the old age home, someone in the Washington Post style section would  write “Barack Obama responded to unfair attacks on his alleged inexperience today by charging that John McCain is out of touch with the issues Americans care most about.”

Anyway, I think the age issue can be used as a smear or it can be used as a legitimate issue, the devil’s in the details.

As for the comparison to race, I don’t think that works. Race is different. It’s different than age, sex, gender, left-handedness and all that jazz. It just is, politically, historically etc.  If the McCain campaign deliberately tried to make Obama’s race an issue that would not only be worse, it would be politically suicidal.  I don’t think the GOP should be cowed from offering legitimate criticisms that some might call racist. But it would be a far worse thing, on any number of levels, to try to use race against Obama the way the Obama campaign may be trying to use age against McCain. 

Jonah Goldberg — Jonah Goldberg holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute and is a senior editor of National Review. His new book, The Suicide of The West, is on sale now.

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