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Volume 16, Issue 37 - September 11 - September 18, 2008

Politicians and Cheese

Mostly, I like them both old and gray

One sees more than a few young and daring pilots, though not for long. But truth be, one sees many more old and experienced gray-haired pilots still flying.

–Alaska Bush pilot John Walatka

The above words were spoken to me by Walatka more than 50 years ago when he took me on a tour of fishing holes on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. I remain a somewhat fearful flyer — even though I’m a former president and graduate of Eastern Airlines’ long-defunct Former Fearful Flyers program. If I can get from here to my destination in the time available by train, bus, taxi, bicycle, hitchhiking, driving, roller skating — or even shank’s mare — that’s my cup o’ tea.

It all goes back to my flight from Hawaii to Oakland, Cal., aboard a B-29 Navy hospital plane with one engine gone, a story previously related in these pages. Common sense tells me I’m safer in a big plane than probably even walking, certainly than driving. But since that coming-in-on-a-wing-and-a-prayer flight shortly after World War II, I have little faith in wings — whether stationary or flapping.

So if I have no choice, the first thing I look for is gray hair on the smiling pilot greeting passengers at the cockpit door. He’s a security symbol. He has flown thousands of hours, knows airplanes and how to pilot them. He’s a survivor, which I want to be.

The Wisdom of Age

I feel the same way about politics. The higher up the office seeker, the more I want to see gray, white or baldness. When it comes to running my beloved country in all the turbulence these days, I want a pilot with experience, experience and experience.

I think about this with less than 60 days until the election for the next president of the United States. One of the candidates, it is strongly suggested by the opposing party and the media, is too old. I interpret that as meaning he has too much experience, which to my way of thinking isn’t reasonable — especially if his experience has developed character, fortitude, know-how and responsibility.

In this society of ours, it’s politically incorrect to question gender, race, nationality, the physically and mentally challenged, religious beliefs and such. But it’s Katie bar the door when it comes to age. Most everyone wants to grow old, but ageism has popped up among those who wouldn’t even think of expressing criticism of the faith, gender, nationality, race or behavior of another.

I’m in my 82nd year. Call me a geezer; I have no objections. One has to live a long time to merit that moniker.

A misspent youth and resistance to following doctors’ orders wouldn’t qualify me to be dogcatcher of Dogpatch. I’ve lived my life as I wanted, to the fullest, and have no regrets though time has worn me down. Many of my generation chose a different quality of life and to this day are highly qualified for anything but the Olympics.

Time brings experience, and many others can put that experience to good use. Look at it this way:

You’ve got a tidy nest egg, but inflation suggests more is needed to ensure you can live the remainder of your life with no financial worries. It’s time to put more in that nest egg, to invest. I ask you: Given the choice would you rather trust your piggy bank in the hands of a 40-year-old up-and-coming financial whiz? Or would you prefer Warren Buffett, the guy who has made and is still making billions via savvy and experience? He’s only six years younger than I — and six years older than the candidate whom many consider too old to handle the reins of this nation.

The Youth Exception

Me, I have nothing against youth. I’d love to be young again. And I wouldn’t ask that with the return of youth I’d know what I’ve learned via experience.

As I recall, Theodore Roosevelt, one of greatest presidents ever, was at 43 the youngest to hold office until John F. Kennedy came along.

Despite his age, Teddy of Rough Riders fame took over with a bagful of experience. He knew war (walk softly, but carry a big stick), had served as chief police commissioner of the Big Apple, governor of New York, assistant secretary of the Navy, been a cowpoke on the frontier of the still Wild West and was a tested reformer with limitless political savvy. He was a man beyond his years.

Ageism is Relative

Consider it this way. The candidate who is thought by so many too old has packed on his life only about a decade more than has the woman who almost wrested the nomination from the current younger candidate of her party. Only two terms in office, and she would almost be the age of the too-old candidate. Yet eight years ago, when he tried for the big job, his age was questioned.

And all that talk about a vice-president being only a heartbeat away from the president: Can that be another strong hint of ageism? Yet doctors have pretty much given the too-old candidate a clean bill of health despite his more than five years of torture in the Hanoi Hilton as a captive Naval flyer. Methinks that time should be subtracted from his age — though added to experience.

If the naysayers prove right, and heaven forbid that heartbeat away scenario comes about, be reminded that the running mate of the too-old candidate is about the same age as the other presidential candidate.

They say this election is all about change, and I can’t disagree. But there are two types of change, good an’ bad. Let the electorate make the big decision on that basis, not on age — seeing that both top candidates and their running mates display much to offer in the way of vigor, determination and smarts in the next four years.

To paraphrase Oliver Wendell Holmes: To be 72 years young is sometimes far more cheerful and hopeful than to be 46 years old. There, I’ve spoken it; already I feel a dozen years younger. Enough said.

© COPYRIGHT 2008 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.