McCain: Representing The Fading Graying Demographic

07/07/2008 12:51 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Did you see the cover of New York magazine last week?

A grinning John McCain and Barack Obama on beach chairs, knuckle-to-knuckle in a terrorist fist jab. Kudos to whoever thought of the shot -- even if neither McCain's pasty legs nor Obama's chiseled abs are their own.

At a glance, though, the image captures one of the symbolic struggles of this election: the continued rule of the older white male, or the triumph of the young and multi-culti.

We know from recent polls that age is an issue for many U.S. voters, and as many may be unlikely to vote for McCain because he's over 70 as will be disinclined to vote for Obama because he's half black.

But just extend those two factors now to the demographics of the entire world. According to a 2007 UN report, the world's population is aging rapidly. For the first time in human history, the proportion of people over 60 is growing faster than the proportion of people under 15. In some developed nations, there are already more senior citizens than teenagers. This means that the work force is growing smaller, even as the number of people requiring increased health and social services is getting bigger. By 2050, the entire world will be -- to borrow a term from the housing crisis -- upside down. If only as an emissary from the world's graying population, McCain may be our man.

At the same time, the demographic shift to an older population also means a world that is increasingly less white, less Western, and less developed. In this fascinating map of the world's population, the countries in the northern hemisphere are a pale wasteland; Central and South America, the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia show the dark density of people under 15. Thirty percent of Americans may be squeamish about turning on the TV and finding a brown-skinned man in the White House, but for a lot of young people tuning in to the BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera, or YouTube, seeing President Obama will be just like looking in a mirror.

Of course, the world doesn't get to vote. If it did, sheerly on cosmetics either McCain or Obama has a reasonable claim for representing the world's population. But in truth neither of them hits the mark. If we really wanted someone who embodied international demographics, we'd have our eye on an older, urban, non-white woman.