George Bernard Shaw in middle age took a walk through a British village cemetery and came upon a gravestone which bore a remarkable inscription. It advised that the woman buried there had "Died - Age 76. Cut down in the prime of life." He was so smitten with the sentiment on that stone, and the beliefs of the people who lived in this village about the value of old age, that he determined to settle down there where he passed not only the prime of his life, but continued to live and work productively well into his nineties. Shaw never settled for the old canard that it was natural to be liberal in one's youth and a conservative in old age. The young Fabian reformer remained alive in the old Shaw.
I write this as a man in the prime of his life, and one who rejects John McCain not because he is a fellow septuagenarian but because he is an arrogant, ignorant, and dangerous politician. I take exception to the view that he is drifting into senility, or soon will, and that he will be a danger to the country because age will wither his brain and leave only a choleric warmonger to press a button that blows us all to smithereens. John McCain would be a danger to this country at 46; no, he would have been a danger at 25. What makes him a threat and a hazard to us all are his lifelong beliefs -- militaristic beliefs he held as a young man, and ones he shares with a lesser man, George W. Bush, about how to deal with domestic problems and foreign policy. He may be the real deal -- a true tough guy -- but we've had so many phony ones -- W. standing in flight jacket before "Mission Impossible" that we have come to suspect the alleged tough guy as leader. And we have every reason to do so. Domestically, these tough guys offer the poor tough love and the rich their true allegiance; their favorite wars are the class wars which they execute with great skill and subtlety. We might well call it trickle down compassion. In so many circumstances tough is a synonym for dumb -- it replaces posturing and bellicosity for thought and real policy. Americans can no longer afford such posturing and still hope that their families will be safe in this world -- but this has nothing to do with McCain's age -- unless all the John Wayne movies he was exposed to in his youth did something to warp his young brain. No, I don't dispute McCain's courage, his sacrifice and his past service to the country, but unfortunately that courage and service is irrelevant in today's world where intelligence, probity, and the ability to forge alliances are more meaningful than ever. We must not judge him on his age but on who he is and what he stands for today.
If we demand that people regard Barack Obama as an individual beyond his race -- and Hillary Clinton as a leader beyond her sex -- then we must give McCain his due and not judge him by his 72 years. Age does not make John McCain a threat to this country's future. John McCain's beliefs do.