What is wrong with discrimination against ‘old’ guys?

What if I said I would not vote for Senator Barack Obama for president of the United States because he is black (or multiracial); or for Senator Hillary Clinton because she is a woman; or, that I would not have voted for former Mayor Rudy Giuliani because he is Italian; or former governor Mitt Romney because he is a Mormon? Any of those statements would most assuredly result in revocation of invitations to a lot of dinner parties and probably would – if made in a public forum – contribute to more than a few appearances on CNN to explain my “racist,” “sexist,” or otherwise “bigoted” comments. And, well they should!

But, what if I said I won’t vote for Senator John McCain for president because he is too old? There would be very little, if any, social ostracism for making such a statement.

Why is this so?

Obviously, when someone is voting for president or any other political office, voters have the right to apply whatever standards they choose in making their selection. Yet, our society is rapidly evolving an antipathy toward the application of factors such as skin color, sex, religion or ethnic background in virtually any aspect of American life. We profess to be an “equal opportunity” society. We believe that a person’s “immutable” traits – those things over which an individual has no control – should not play a part in how that individual is treated. Moreover, our belief in religious freedom deters us from openly practicing religious discrimination.

At the heart of each of these negative reactions to discrimination is the fundamental belief that our beloved nation is comprised of individuals, not representatives of “groups,” and that every individual is entitled to an equal chance to compete and to succeed on the basis of his or her merits.

Why should this belief not apply to “seasoned” citizens?

When I pose this question, I often get a question in response: what if John McCain, God forbid, died in office? Well, the Constitution provides an answer to that question and it is the vice president. There is a succession plan for such eventualities, and it is unfair to apply the issue of mortality to a senior citizen when we do not apply the same factor to one who is not a senior citizen. History has shown that age is not a determining factor for whether a president will live out the fullness of his or her term. Some who were elected when they were young and vibrant were tragically snuffed out at a relatively young age. Others lived to a ripe age while in office – and beyond – and served the country well. Thus, I would submit that age should not be any more relevant in our presidential decision-making process than the factors of race, sex, color, ethnicity or religion.

It is important to emphasize that we are not electing a physical education coach. We are electing a chief executive officer of the most powerful public corporation in the world. Relevant experience, sound judgment and the overall compatibility of the candidates’ beliefs and values compared to my own are the overriding characteristics for which I search in a presidential candidate. I do not ask whether I believe the candidate will live for four years after taking the oath of office. Only God can answer that question and I doubt that He is prepared to give me His insight about the matter.

There is another factor to consider regarding this issue of age. As the projected lifespan of the average American increases, so must our thinking about the roles that “senior citizens” should be allowed to play in our society. Instead of consigning individuals to the pastures of retirement at 65, we should encourage them to remain productive, defer Social Security until a later age, forget about senior citizen discounts at Denny’s and the theater houses, get rid of the old man’s shuffle, and live life fully and productively until one’s toes curl up. This is not to diminish those who make the conscious decision that they would prefer to abandon the labor force and to live life at a slower pace; it is simply to emphasize that the choice should be theirs and not one dictated by societal attitudes about age and actuarial charts.

If we value individual merit and the principle of not judging individuals by the color of their skin, then it certainly seems to me we should not judge individuals by the extent of their wrinkles or the number of calendar years they have lived.