McCain and the Ageism Charge

15 06 2008

Adam Nagourney in the Week In Review section in the NYT today:

Mr. McCain is vulnerable to a double-standard that shadows him whenever he is in public view. Unlike Mr. Obama, if Mr. McCain stumbles on the stairs or over a few facts, it has the potential to become the kind of moment that crystallizes concerns about his fitness.

Now, while it is true that whether fairly or not McCain’s age will be issue in the general election, it is certainly misleading to suggest that Obama has the edge over McCain with regard to double standards. To be certain, McCain will undoubtedly will have to prove to voters that he is full of vigor and a lucid thinker whereas Obama already seems to embody such attributes due to his given his youthful appearance and gift for oratory.

But President Ronald Reagan already shattered the barrier of ageism twice after soundly beating his Democratic opponents in two consecutive contests for the presidency in the 1980s. Shortly after a month after taking office, Ronald Reagan turned 70 years old and looked every bit of his age during the process. Sure McCain at 74 now is about as old as Reagan was when he started his second term, but its not THAT much older and at least there is some kind of precedent for it.

Plus, anyone who has watched Senate or House floor debates on C-SPAN can surely attest to the fact that Americans have no problem of electing and reelecting elderly white men to high office. By contrast, the only black person currently in the U.S. Senate also happens to be the same one running for president too.

More importantly, Obama has no template of viable black men running for president with a Muslim first and last name he can refer to. Nearly every single U.S. president so far has been an old or soon to be old white male with names no voter would confuse with the most wanted terrorist in the world.

as abhorrent a prejudice as ageism it has yet to be exploited for political gain in the same way as racial prejudice was used for decades to bolster the GOP’s infamous Southern strategy.

And of course, though Obama is not innocent of invoking ageist overtones when he said McCain was “losing his bearings,” that comment is no where near as inflammatory as implying that the Illinois Senator is somehow a terrorist sympathizer in fund raising letters as the McCain campaign has already done.

In fact, despite being Christian, Obama is still having to beat back a variety of Islamophobic smears ranging from some implied relationship with Louis Farrakhan to scurrilous emails erroneously stating he grew up in a madrassa. So, whatever ageist prejudice that McCain has had to deal with, whether real or imagined, seems fairly mild compared to the double standards Obama and his campaign has had to overcome.

I dare say, unlike McCain, if Obama captures the presidency, he could emerge as one of the most smeared candidates to ever win a national election.

But lets not lose sight of what is truly going on here. Its obvious that some members of the mainstream media are eager to find a new narrative that revolves around prejudice that somehow rivals the sexism versus racism storyline in the Democratic primary.

I fully expect more stories and opinion pieces about ageism directed at McCain each time he utters another gaffe.

And just think its not even November yet.

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