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Coming of Age

The presidential candidates put their attack politics aside yesterday and successfully argued their positions for 90 minutes at what was supposed to be a town hall style debate. Audience participation was limited to reading questions off of cue cards and then staying silent, but both candidates seemed to appreciate the walk and talk format that brought them closer to the audience of undecided voters, especially John McCain. Microphone in hand, walking up to audience members and looking into the eyes McCain said the following,

“You know, my hero is a guy named Teddy Roosevelt. Teddy Roosevelt used to say walk softly — talk softly, but carry a big stick. Senator Obama likes to talk loudly.”

The line conjured images of a man whose heroes were born two centuries ago, of a man walking (or talking) carefully and slowly with a cane in hand, and of a man who is telling the young people to “keep it down!”. Then one thought came to mind: this man is old; this man is John McCain.

Now I know it is not politically correct to call McCain old, and it is prejudice to suggest old people wouldn’t make good presidents. But I’d like to put correctness aside for a moment and reveal my true feelings about this.

The guy looked really old last night. He was hobbling around. He was misspeaking in a way that people whose minds are slowing down—god bless them—speak. He attempted to make a joke about hair implants. He was hobbling around the floor. At the end of the debate, after shaking Obama’s hand, he walked to the side of the stage and hiked up his pants like the proverbial grandpa.

Now all these qualities are lovely, and I mean that. In my heart I hold deep respect for people who have put in their years and in return gained wisdom that’s inaccessible to someone like myself, nearly a third his age. This I write with utmost sincerity.

But I do not think it is beneficial to the political process or to this country to shy away from a conversation about age and aging as it pertains to presidential candidates who are in their twilight years, as the country is in the twilight of an historic and crucial election cycle.

Talking about McCain’s age is difficult because you can get accused of being prejudiced and disrespectful. But I think there is a deeper, less conscious reason for our silence: mortality, and namely, the fear of our own.

Our culture values youth; being old is frowned upon. Similarly, our culture values white; being black has been traditionally—and arguably still is—frowned upon. As a consequence, it is inappropriate to call the age or race of the candidates into question when examining their qualifications to be the next president of the United States. But a logical fallacy exists in equating these two qualities that too often get thrown in the same category of “descriptors.” The race of the next president does not have the potential to negatively impact his abilities as Commander in Chief. His age does.

I imagine I may have stepped beyond the comfort zone of many with this premise, but I do think it’s important to begin talking about McCain’s age as it pertains to his ability to perform as president. Without discourse about age now, WE could be the ones learning on the job, and that is a risk we cannot afford to take.

-Jamie Wong