You can generally predict whether someone is an engaged voter by posing a simple question: Does this person have keen, personal memories of the Great Depression?
That is what bothers me so much about the selected moderators for the presidential and vice presidential debates. They are part of the Aged Takeover of politics. And I don’t like it.
I never know what to make of the argument that the best way to enfranchise a group of people is to stick someone demographically similar on their television sets. But it seemed to convince people last week, during the great Let’s Insist On A Female Debate Moderator shouting cycle. If we needed a female moderator so much, in spite of the fact that women already make up the majority of voters, then surely we missed a far bigger boat. Where are the young?
I am not ageist. Well, not personally. Some of my best friends are octogenarians. I can sit rapt for hours listening to the Andrews Sisters and ruing the demise of the sock hop. My biggest complaint about films these days is that they are in too many colors.
I am not like the majority of people, who consider old age to be almost gauche and who object obstreperously when anyone over age 40 appears on the cover of a magazine. Elderly people, everyone insists, should be neither seen nor heard. The sole exception is Betty White, who has special dispensation from the pop-culture gods. But in general, if you have survived past 65, we suspect that you must be boring. No one ever calls Paul McCartney the cool Beatle. If I harbor any sympathy for these wrinkled, long-winded, Centrum-Silver-toting folks, it is my weakness. I am, after all, not young enough to know everything. To my undying shame and regret, I was born before 1990.
So it shocks me that the average age of the moderators is almost 69. To put this in perspective, this is older than more than 70 percent of voters. And voters are not that young. Almost 23 percent of voters are older than 65, even though people over 65 make up only 17 percent of the eligible voting population.
Heck, the candidates are younger. And that’s saying something.
Was no one under 55 available?
It is one thing for the candidates to be over 50. There is a lower bound on the age of aspirants to the presidency. When this country was founded, we were still laboring under the delusion that age brought wisdom. But we know better now. Age doesn’t bring wisdom. All age brings is wrinkles, constipation and the indifference of advertisers.
Yet in spite of that, the old retain a disproportionate influence on our lives. My generation will be paying for their benefits for the rest of our days, and to add insult to injury, there is now a film in theaters in which Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones threaten repeatedly to have sex. And this will only get worse at the rate we are voting.
One of the biggest problems people have foreseen for this election is the inability to inspire young people to turn out in large numbers, as we did in 2008. It is hard to coax lightning into striking twice, and the creepy e-mails from the Obama campaign have done little to help. But the task is almost impossible. 2008 was a flood. “Everything will change!” we yelled, stampeding out to the polls in large numbers. And then — well, some things changed, but other things, like the fact that we were unlikely to get jobs any time soon, remained constant. It was enough to disillusion anyone. And we were never very earnest to begin with.
And now we have to watch older people host the debates. Nothing says, “Ah, this is exciting and relevant to young voters,” like “A man your grandfather’s age, who has done this for nearly as long as you have been alive, will now ask another question very slowly.”
Is this cruel to the old? Perhaps.
But why not? They have inherited the earth. Any wealth we 20-somethings can scratch together in this economy belongs to them. They own the basements we live in. They were actually around for the ’60s. And they have spent a far smaller proportion of their lives in the company of Justin Bieber. All in all, they have a fairly good deal. You cannot pity someone who is better off than you.
One feels that least they could do was find someone spry to host a debate. If we wanted to spend two hours watching people decades our senior wrangle with one another and cost us money, we would be at “Hope Springs.”