So, the Presidential campaign has begun in earnest, the policies, the politics, the personalities. The character assassinations, the implications, the reflexive comments and the unsaid innuendo, but for just a moment lets drop back into a huddle. We, as a species, tend to become overwrought and miss the obvious, outside of the politics, outside of party; we tend over-complicate, while dreaming of flight we forget about gravity.
We forget the inescapable, the Democrats can plaster McCain all they want on his war policies or on his ignorance of economic matters and the Republicans will just wave their cape and yell Ole! You won’t change minds with these arguments; people are steadfast in their beliefs. McCain, however, has an inescapable weakness; there is no spinning it, as we all face it. We’ve all had personal experience with it. As the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius once said, “The days of our lives are short and the days of our powers are shorter still.” My dream of playing short stop for the Chicago Cubs will never be realized, I’m too old.
Were I to show up for spring training, the admonition that “You’re too old!” would not be a personal attack but a statement of obvious fact. McCain, if elected, would be 75 years old when he finished his first term. George Washington was 65 when he finished his second term. In fact the oldest President ever elected in the 19th century, William Henry Harrison, didn’t survive the inaugural festivities and he was four years younger than John McCain.
The average age of our Presidents at election is between 50 and 59 years of age, thus making McCain between 12 to 21 years-of-age outside of that window. The two oldest Presidents ever elected both suffered health problems while in office. Eisenhower had heart problems and Reagan was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease during his second term. McCain is 9 years older than Eisenhower and 2 years older than Ronald Reagan, this is gravity! We are all mortal. Time is inescapable. These are not personal attacks, these are statements of fact.
John McCain revels in his war hero mystique and his time as a prisoner of war, almost four decades ago! In 1951 Harry Truman fired Douglas MacArthur for disobeying his orders. Truman was at the low ebb of his Presidency and MacArthur was the most popular American General in modern history. His politics were stridently Republican and the party began to investigate the possibility of running MacArthur for the highest office but came to two conclusions, he was a loose cannon and he was too old.
MacArthur made his famous farewell speech to Congress where he said, "Old soldiers never die; they just fade away." He was 71 years old, the same age that John McCain is today.
“The world has turned over many times since I took the oath on the plain at West Point,” MacArthur reminded them, “And the hopes and dreams have long since vanished, but I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barracks ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that old soldiers never die; they just fade away.
“And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away, an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty. Good-by.”
There is no disgrace in getting old or in being old, just an understanding that we then play for short yardage and a lifetime book club membership might not be such a great deal. Nothing is set in stone and there have been great minds that functioned on a higher plain at that age, but honestly, is John McCain one of them? Will he suddenly become an intellectual with vision and insight in his eighth decade of life? Can he outrun the sand dunes of time?
Napoleon was 52. Churchill left office at the end of World War II when he was 71, the same age as John McCain now. Abe Lincoln was 56 at the time his death and FDR was 63 at his. Joseph Stalin was 75, the same age that John McCain would be finishing his first term. Mao was 83 at his death but named Lin Biao as his successor in 1973 when Mao was 78, two years younger than John McCain will be if elected to two terms.
Pope John Paul II was 58 when he became Pope; his vigor, his mountain climbing and his love of hiking and swimming electrified the public. They were enamored by a youthful, public Pope. His end was perhaps even sadder because the world watched a wasted old man, his hands trembling, his voice weak and raspy as he tried to fulfill his duty. His heart was in it but his body was wasted by the ravages of time. John McCain, if elected, would be 14 years senior to the age when John Paul became Pope.
John McCain, by any metric we choose to use, is too old for the job, and for the same reasons that I’m too old to play short stop for the Chicago Cubs. Even if I were the most amazing 51-year-old in history, with the eyes and speed of a man half my age, there are so many younger players who have yet to reach their prime. So many with an opportunity to be great, to perform at that higher level with the energy of youth rather than with the weight of time.
So it would be no sin if the Democratic party were to point out the obvious. No one, friend or foe, would recoil from pointing out my folly at wanting to play short stop. It would not be a personal attack or insensitive to state reality. If you needed heart surgery and one surgeon was 71 and the other was 47 and the operation was expected to take sixteen hours, who would you choose? We as a nation face an operation that will take at least four years and maybe eight! It will require great stamina and long hours of hard, grueling work, so let’s stop kidding ourselves here!
We can argue with McCain on his policies but the greatest argument to be made against him is a calendar. Perhaps the Democrats should take a page from the Republican playbook? They were so fond of following Senator Kerry in 2004 and waving flip flops at him that maybe Democrats should follow McCain waving calendars at him, with signs saying, “John McCain’s parents won’t let him be President! Mother Nature and Father Time!”
The evangelicals could be silenced by the reading the Bible to them, Psalm 90:10 (King James Version)
10, The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
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