The problem isn’t that John McCain is too old.

October 11, 2008 | By | 9 Replies More

Sam Donaldson recently argued that the problem with 72-year old John McCain (referring to McCain’s confusion and his erratic unfocused ways) is due to his “age.” I vehemently disagree with Donaldson (who, at 74, is two years older than McCain).  Blaming mental incoherence on “age” is a form of bigotry. There are numerous older folks who are as sharp as can be. To say that “age” is the problem is to prejudge all of those older folks, even though many of them are intellectually performing at high levels. Who do I have in mind? Here’s a few examples.

How about 78-year old investor and billionaire George Soros, who recently finished writing his new book, The Credit Crisis of 2008? And consider Bill Moyers, who is doing phenomenal work as a broadcast journalist and writer, at the age of 74. Here’s two for the price of one: Bill Moyers conducting this recent interview with Soros. Watch this insightful interview and then ask whether either of these gentlemen are too old to be doing the work they are doing. Speaking of billionaires, consider Warren Buffet, 77, who Forbes recently declared the world’s wealthiest man.

Who else comes to mind? How about Bertrand Russell, who lived to the ripe old age of 98. Russell was busy writing his three volume autobiography, starting it at age 95 and finishing it up, just in time, at the age of 97.

Consider, also, Ernst Mayr, the evolutionary biologist. A few years ago, I read one of Mayr’s books, What Evolution Is. It’s really a terrific book, with a forward by Jarred Diamond recounting how Mayr did some of his field work back in 1927. You see, Mayr was born in 1904 and lived to be 100 years old. He wrote his fine book when he was 97 years old. He then went on to write one more book at the age of 99.

Are some old people unable to function?  Why are they unable to function?  That’s an entirely separate question.

Therefore, whenever I hear that McCain is “too old,” I jump in to remind people that many people are at the top of their game when they are in their 70’s. Perhaps McCain has suffered injuries that affect his ability to think rationally. Perhaps he has a medical condition that is causing his thought process to crumble. Perhaps McCain never was able to think coherently. To call McCain’s problem one of “age,” though, is to engage in bigotry.


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Category: Bigotry, Health, Psychology Cognition

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (9)

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  1. TJ says:

    I don't think "old" always refers to strict chronological age. "Old"-ness and age probably used to correlate more so than they do now. McCain's problem isn't that he's 72, it's that he's *old*; he's worn out, used up, broken down–mentally and physically. The fact that it took him 72 years to get there is mostly incidental. Donaldson, Soros, and the others are more chronologically advanced, but they are not yet old. My grandmother lived to be over 100, and she didn't start getting old until her mid 90s. I have another relative who was really old at 40. [/2cents]

  2. Erika Price says:

    Thank you, Erich! I think criticizing McCain for his chronological age rather than any of his actual flaws is inappropriate, and misses the point entirely. It's the same reason I have a strong distaste for individuals mocking Bush for being "stupid". Criticizing a presidential candidate isn't a game where the most funny flaw is to be exploited for yuks. Rather, people should focus on the substantive flaws McCain has- and there are many of them!

    And furthermore, as you point out, it is bigoted to say that McCain is unfit to be a leader because he is old. Numeric age says nothing of mental merit, maturity level, quality of memory, or even future life expectancy. It's one of the worst dimensions on which to evaluate ANY person, including a presidential candidate. Thank you for discussing this point, which has vexed me throughout McCain's candidacy.

  3. huh? says:


    I have a brand new bike. Do you want to race, using your 20 year old one? Or doesn't age mean anything to you?

  4. He does seem quite doddery as you can see in this video:

    And this is a sign for age. I'm pretty sure he was not like that when he was in his twenties, thirties, forties, etc. The percentage of people who are senile and have mental diseases like Alzheimer is simply higher in McCain's age range. And he had cancer. And other health issues from his time in Vietnam. Even when you are really healthy, the older you get the more likely it is that you will develop some kind of serious disease.

    It seems to me that when people say McCain is too old they think of all these implications. If there was an older candidate who was as mentally alert (and physically fit?) as the other people Erich mentioned in his post people would not bring up the age issue.

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    I know who "Huh?" is, and I'm not at all threated by the knowledge that, though "Huh?" is about 60 years old (a bit older than me), he rides his bikes (both his new one and his old one) through the mountains of the Western U.S. at a clip of 100 miles per day. Truly extraordinary stuff.

    If he wishes, I will post a link to the type of riding he does. He and others "older" riders, including some approaching 70, if I'm recalling correctly.

  6. Dan Klarmann says:

    I had trouble keeping up with my dad on a bike when he was 77.

  7. HUH? says:

    In asking about racing your 20 year old bike against my new one, I was illustrating that age DOES matter. Whether it is a bike or a presidential candidate.

    McCain, like your old bike, is past his best years. Obama, like my new bike, is at his peak performance years.

  8. Erich Vieth says:

    Huh?: You comment went over my head because I think of bikes as being repairable. If the frame holds up, you can just about keep it going forever.

    But then again, todays bikes are improved designs over those of 20 years ago, such that you are correct. Even if you kept a 20 year old bike in perfect repair, some new models have been improved such that you'd chose the new model.

    I'm thinking that McCain has not kept himself in "good repair." His mind too often works in a simplistic, almost desperately leaping sort of way. He's also carrying around some bizarre emotional baggage. He seems to have notable mental deterioration, which admittedly sometimes correlates with age, but is not the same thing as age.

  9. grumpypilgrim says:

    "Perhaps McCain never was able to think coherently."

    Seems to me that sentence probably best sums it up. Whatever McCain's past "experience," his thinking process is incoherent and bizarre. He criticizes Obama's lack of experience, then picks the most conspicuously incompetent V.P. candidate in U.S. history. He criticizes Obama for supporting energy conservation but not a 'gas tax holiday', apparently not realizing that the latter idea is antithetical to energy conservation. Many more examples could be listed, all of which point to a man who is clueless and incoherent. Even mainstream Republicans are jumping from McCain's ship.

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