Flaming the Geezer Vote: Attacks on John McCain’s Age May Backfire


Originally published on the Guardian’s “On the road to the White House” blog, a project of Guardian Films

Every year, despite their purported senility and decrepitude, elderly people like myself somehow manage to hobble to the polls with their canes and walkers, or zip down in their golf carts or aging Cadillacs, and figure out which lever to pull or which little box to fill in. We are the most reliable group of voters in America. In 2004, people over the age of 65 made up more than a third of the voting age population, and what’s more important, nearly 70% of them actually voted. In addition, seniors are a key segment of the vote in several vital swing states, including here in Nevada, as well as Florida and Pennsylvania.

With this in mind, attacking McCain on the basis of age is not just mean, it’s dumb.

While Obama himself has avoided such attacks, his supporters are gleefully pursuing them. There are websites now devoted to nothing else, and the Guardian Films team’s own recent video with Roseanne Barr gets into the act big time, with the comedian declaring that “old people … should just die” and “know when it’s time to move over and leave the future for the young.”

Being not that much younger than John McCain myself, I find such attacks disconcerting. I suppose I could do as Roseanne suggests, and kill myself for the good of the nation. But right now I’m thinking about how to keep working so I can stay alive a bit longer, since our so-called retirement funds in the 401Ks have been decimated in the fiscal chaos, and Medicare benefits could easily get cut as well. With McCain’s long history of favouring things like privatising social security, there are plenty of ways in which Obama supporters could try to win over old people’s votes from the GOP–but calling him decrepit and senile is probably not one of them.

As someone who has reported on McCain for decades, I also know that the attacks simply get things wrong. What’s wrong with McCain has nothing to do with his age. He was not an old man when he was implicated in the S&L scandal as part of the Keating 5 affair back in the 1980s. He wasn’t old when he voted against Martin Luther King Day. Plus he’s been a loose cannon all along, and if he’s gotten more “erratic” it’s probably from the pressure of groveling before the Republican base.

As for old politicians, I doubt even Roseanne would wish to hasten the death of Ted Kennedy, who is older than McCain, or denounce Robert Byrd as he tottered to the podium, Constitution in hand, to lay out the most scathing attack on Bush for the Iraq war. Gloria Steinem is older than McCain, and she hardly looks or acts ready to be put out to pasture, nor did Paul Newman.

The smarter approach to the geezer vote comes from those Obama supporters who are courting oldsters, rather than alienating them. Notable among these is what’s being called “the Great Schlep,” championed by comedian Sarah Silverman–the legions of young Jewish voters who are travelling to Florida to convince their grandparents to vote for Obama, thereby securing “the bubbe vote.”

If they’d done something like this back in 2000, the old folks might have spared the country eight years of George W. Bush.

© Guardian News and Media Limited 2008

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