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Being a zealot about firsthand reporting, I’m bemused when people in their 20s, or 60s, describe authoritatively what it’s like to be in the octogenarian zone. Mostly malarky.
We all have a sell-by date, but we’re all different. Physical aspects are secondary. As with cars, parts can be swapped out. FDR did admirably in a wheel chair to end the Great Depression and (eventually) take the lead to beat back Hitler and Hirohito. It’s those little gray cells that matter.
In statecraft and what was “journalism” when the word had meaning, old age is an advantage until it isn’t. Sure, Feinstein should go. Pelosi? Please, no. Sharp as a scimitar, she maneuvered America around Donald Trump, who has been unfit for public trust since his short-pants days.
A Nikki Haley who argues for an across-the-board age limit to office is either too ambitious to be entrusted with power or too dumb to qualify. Term limits are tempting. In some cases, they should be, like, five seconds. But solid experience and trust built up over time? Priceless.
My last Report noted that elections come down to the lesser of two flawed candidates. A friend who shared it got this remark: “Biden is a corporate schill (cq) just maintaining the status quo of a corporate run government while America continues it’s (cq) death spiral to a 3rd world country.”
That guy had refused to vote for Hillary Clinton and plans to abstain next year. In effect, two votes for a self-obsessed, twice impeached, sex-offender, indicted stark raving lunatic coup plotter who tells his Kool-Aid cultists: “I am your retribution.”
Today’s world is out of wiggle room for do-overs. If a U.S. chief executive gets things wrong, we’re toast. Only a seasoned leader respected by allies and adversaries can rally global action to avert climate collapse — if an endgame world war doesn’t switch off the lights before then.
It’s not about what’s “fair.” Presidents with longer expected shelf life are better, if there are options. That’s a big if. When people argue that Democrats need a younger candidate, I always agree. Then I add, give me a name.
If it were only about domestic stuff, it would be easier. Father Bush’s slogan, “a thousand points of light,” resonated in America. But his real triumph was in the wider world. He forged a broad coalition after a despot seized his neighbor’s oilfields. Then he stopped short of Baghdad.
As an ambassador and CIA chief, he saw what happens when tyrannies topple into a vacuum. Like after Baby Bush invaded. Nothing is simple. Iraq was Dick Cheney’s war. But his daughter fell on her sword trying to preserve the integrity of the Republican Party — and democracy.
Personal integrity is by far any politician’s most important quality. Long lives mean past regrets, actions taken in different times for complex reasons. Good leaders evolve to get better with age. Bad ones gather dirt for leverage to keep their place at the public trough.
Mitch McConnell, at 81, captains a fork-tongued party with the same first syllable as reptilian. His star-chamber Senate preached principle while packing the Supreme Court and condoning a coup. Chuck Grassley, 89, won an eighth term in 2022 with a stunning display of bald hypocrisy.
Grassley excoriated Trump over Jan. 6 and has called him “idiotic.” Still, he stood next to him at a home-state rally. “If I didn’t accept the endorsement of a person who has 91% of the Republican voters in Iowa,” he said, “I wouldn’t be too smart.” Smart? Try faithless.
This is how I ended that Facebook post:
“America has been in deepening shit since the Reagan ’80s, when Republicans began dumbing down schools, cutting taxes and enabling a corporate plutocracy to…OK, enough of this. Back to that stunning pair in the picture, both of whom undimmed by time in any way that matters. In fact, au contraire.
“It’s a wonderful world still, with time for fun, friends and family. I can’t wait for linguine alle vongole and still-flapping fish at Gennaro’s beachside tables near Sorrento. But I also can’t resist an old-guy finale. The “kids” in our crowd range from their 60s to preschool age, all raised to see “diversity” not as a political or social goal but rather as a happy human reality. To protect that, they know, democracy can’t be a spectator sport.”
That prompted a troubling comment from a former AP colleague, an excellent reporter since her deeply human dispatches from Vietnam. “Lighten up,” she said. God knows I’d love to. Who wants to end his days ranting and raving like some loony Quixote?
Yet lightening up amounts to accepting a status quo that is quite literally killing us all. Reporters who have watched a world fall on its axis need to, as the cliché goes, bear witness.
Still, my ex-colleague is right. Dispatches need more reporting and less sermonizing into a choir loft. They should appeal to readers in fresher generations who realize the inanity of simplistic ageism. Everyone, if lucky enough, heads inexorably toward the realm of “seniors.”
This will be a challenge. These Reports should resonate particularly with young reporters who replace the old guard, but an “unsubscribe” from a former student rattled me. She now writes, assigns and edits copy for a large region of America on her shift at a major AP hub bureau.
In the dropdown menu, she gave her reason as “this content is no longer relevant to me.” I’d understand if she said I was a boring old jerk or a crappy teacher who criticized her work. But her job is to add global context and wider meaning to state and national dispatches on AP wires.
My broader aim is to engage those XYZ generations. Longtime reporters can shed light on reality beyond insulating borders so they can do a better job of protecting what is left to save. But it will be their world, on their terms, and that requires dialogue.
The key is blasting past stereotypes. TV commercials ridicule clueless old folks — such as, “your parents” — who resist tech that makes reality virtual and “intelligence” artificial. But other old folks developed the basic hardware and software that make all the new stuff possible.
The old term, hot babe, might rankle self-appointed vernacular cops today, but hey. Have you seen the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue? Martha Stewart still qualifies at 81. No plastic surgery or medical miracles. I hung out with her for a day in the ‘90s at her Connecticut spread as she yanked out weeds, chased chickens and then broke for her regular relentless workout.
Today, Stewart told Variety, she is moving on from the past to reimagine the future. A chaotic new world challenges all generations everywhere. We need to listen to each other.
The family is aiming for lots of lightening up and laughter at my 80th birthday bash in the Naples environs while pigging out on pizza. But, poking around Pompei, I’ll do a lot of listening to those kids who know that “woke” only means being wide awake.
I can’t think of a better place. Those old Romans lived it up in splendor, ignoring subsurface volcanic rumbling that suddenly erupted. Two millennia later, we need to finally realize that when big news suddenly “breaks,” it’s too late to get out of the way.
Global Geneva contributing editor Mort Rosenblum is a renowned American journalist, editor and author currently based in France and Tucson, Arizona. He has travelled and reported the world more years than he can remember. His regular column, The MortReport, is available online and by email. Also see Mort’s most recent book: Saving the World from Trump.
Saving the world from Trump can be purchased in print and e-book from these and other links.
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