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VIEWPOINT: In politics, age is more than a number

June 16, 2008

At the ripe age of 71, Sen. John McCain is poised to become the Republican nominee for president. Simply put, McCain is a senior. Years ago, we would've called him a senior citizen. If elected president, he would be 72 years old when taking office. While there is a minimum age of 35 to be elected president, there is no maximum. This raises the question: How old is too old to be a leader? Would a win for McCain be a win for seniors?

If McCain is elected president, he would be slightly older than Ronald Reagan was when he took office. Reagan certainly didn't do anything very notable to dispel notions of ageism. He often made fun of it himself.

McCain seems to come across as the "younger" senior some of us want to be, as we wonder, "Is 70 the new 55?" It seems that we define a senior as someone about 20 or 30 years older than ourselves. Well, now that seniors and boomers are the majority, that notion is getting blurred, at least by the boomers. We boomers are it. He is us. The public is starting to stretch their image of "age" and understand older adults for who they really are-adults who are older. McCain does not seem to be that much of a "senior citizen" to those of us in the huge demographic bubble.

I see it every day in my work at the Indianapolis Senior Center; it is not as much the age in years as the attitude about life. I see 80-year-olds making a difference in our community. In a society that constantly pokes fun at old people, I see seniors who choose to be vibrant, active and healthy. It is inspiring for me to see individuals rise above the negative hype because they know their worth.

Age is not a disqualifying factor, but one that can be a huge plus. Older people have made significant contributions. For example, Frank Lloyd Wright, architect and author, produced a third of his work after he was 60, some of it his most notable. Winston Churchill was prime minister of the United Kingdom and a leading voice in world affairs for more than 50 years.

When it comes to who will hold our nation's highest office, for seniors, the real question is: "Who is willing to fight for Social Security, Medicare and against senior poverty?" For me the issue is who meets the extraordinary requirements of being president, regardless of age. Experience and competence are key.

A colleague helped put it into perspective recently when he said, "In the end, leadership seems to be ageless. Management, on the other hand, is a function of who makes up the team: the vice president, the cabinet members and the other appointees. Those 'management' appointees are people we may live with beyond the administration, but never know when we enter the voting booth."

Age per se is no more important a criterion for political office than sex or race. Can a senior be president? You bet.



France is executive director of the Indianapolis Senior Center, which encourages adults 55 and older to maintain independent lives by providing a variety of services.
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