By Art Cullen
I became eligible for social security the week I realized new eyeglasses were needed to renew my driver’s license. I find myself remembering a bad date in 1978 and not remembering where I am supposed to be in 15 minutes. I need a little nap after lunch. I wonder whatever happened to rock’n’roll. Brother John and I review our surgeries past and planned, and begin to sound like our crazy uncles.
It makes me wonder about age when surveying the presidential field. Trump, 72. Biden, 76. Sanders, 77. Warren, 69.
Nancy Reagan and Al “I’m In Charge” Haig were running the country while Ronald Reagan was asleep and losing his mental capacity in his second term, we later learned. Look what the Oval Office did to a young and vigorous Barack Obama, the one who practiced basketball with the Tar Heels.
Call me ageist. As someone who knows a psychologist I can attest that Trump is batty and losing it more each day. Bernie impresses as a grumpy and impatient Trotskyite, Biden as a familiar Irish pol who wants to hug you up and keep you warm, hearkening to days when unions had teeth and Scranton had steel. They confront a candidate written by Rod Serling for the Twilight Zone.
Warren seems a pup in their presence. Young of mind, she is a fan of Game of Thrones. She is full of vim and vigor and maybe is no more likely to die of a stroke than Pete Buttigieg, 37. She could beat me in a foot race any day of any distance. But if she wins she will be 75 at the end of her first term – slightly older than Reagan at the end of his first four years.
Einstein and Edison were brilliant as old men. Mark Twain got sour and dour. Dwight Eisenhower was a fine president but seemed ancient when he departed office at 70. He left us with grave warnings about Soviet empire and US militarism. America was enthralled with a beautiful young couple, the Kennedys, and their playful children in the White House. JFK allowed us to turn from the Koreanwar to a future on the moon. He probably would have turned us out of Vietnam had he not been assassinated. LBJ quickly became an old man not to be trusted.
Older people send their youth off to war when they have forgotten or rationalized its horror. That’s what this old man learned as a young man. Civilization seemingly always has been run by old chiefs who can’t pick up the sword any more.
Younger people who have to fight them generally clamor to end wars. And women. War would be rarer if women ran the world.
But we are talking, in the main, about three old white men. At least the national cable media are. Biden nearly has the nomination cinched, to hear it told.
Beto O’Rourke, 46, is talking about climate change as if it were the end of the world – which it will be, if we don’t do something urgently. The current occupant, between golf rounds, says it all is a hoax. John Delaney, 56, describes new technology that pulls carbon out of the air. Julián Castro, 44, exhorts us in specific terms about how to protect young immigrants in Storm Lake, and engage them to help build this community.
Biden and Sanders have not been here yet. Warren has – twice – and she has a mind like a steel trap. She has all the progressive planks of Sanders and then some. But many say that she is unelectable – and an old warhorse who waxes about the promise of socialism, or the days of wine and roses with Barack, is a completely sensible alternative.
Mayor Pete may be too young and not experienced enough. He captures young imaginations. You might say the same about Eric Swalwell, at 38. He is talking about guns in a way that Biden and Sanders do not. Tim Ryan, 45, might understand the contemporary economics of Scranton and Youngstown better than either of them. My son, Tom, understands young Latino people in Storm Lake better than I do because he knows a lot more of them. He also probably has a better grasp on the future than I.
My main concern is whether to start collecting social security, and whether I can afford the health insurance until Medicare kicks in three years hence. If I were president, I would approve Medicare for people at 50. But I am not 75 yet. Old people set the rules – Nancy Pelosi is 79 – and got us into the mess we are in. It wasn’t 40-year-olds wishing for dependable health insurance.
Now, about that nap.
Art Cullen is editor of the Storm Lake Times in Iowa and won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing.