Obama, McCain and Ageism

Despite being an Obama supporter, I criticised him for the sexist dogwhistles he used against Clinton, as he talked about her “periodically… feeling down”. Now he’s talking about McCain being “confused” and “angry”, which arguably are ageist dogwhistles. What do you think about these? I find myself wanting to say that when McCain gets facts wrong there’s nothing problematic in calling him “confused”, or that when he acts angry it’s fine to call him “angry”. But I worry that partisan loyalties may be muddying my thinking on this.

10 thoughts on “Obama, McCain and Ageism

  1. When the characterizations “confused” and “angry” accurately describe John McCain–as they surely do–then there is nothing wrong with saying so. That the phrases may be “code” in other contexts cannot detract from their factual accuracy. Same with “periodically . . . feeling down” regarding Clinton.

  2. To say the obvious: if you think someone has made a mistake, there are various ways to describe that fact. I find, “JJ, you just don’t understand,” pretty insulting, though the interlocutor might say it was just descriptive. But it also contains an hypothesis about the cause of my supposed error, and saying I’m speaking in public on a matter I don’t understand raises a question about professional competence. (In fact this was said to me at a pretty major event a year ago and it is still vivid to me.) “Confused,” when used of a younger person, has a similarly insulting implication about not thinking straight. Used of an older person and it suggests a more pervasive factor.

    So what about Obama and McCain? I bet Obama is doing this intentionally; surely he has a lot of control over his critical vocabularly. At the same time, while it was unacceptable to suggest the nation worry about Clinton’s uterus, it might be more acceptable to worry about McCain’s age. He just doesn’t have to be underhand about it, if that’s what’s happening.

    All in my humble opinon, of course.

  3. I don’t know why “angry” would be a code word for “old” — ?? is it?? I’d think the relevant code words might be “cranky” or even “grumpy” (as in the film titles). Besides, McCain is not old. His mother, at least according to the current Vogue, is still going strong at age 96.

  4. i take issue with the whole dogwhistle thing, but maybe it’s because i’m still a little sensitive about how over the top it was with clinton. also i think that if he thinks we should be concerned about mccain’s age, why not just say it? i mean it’s sortof the same as it was with dick cheney, it’s a legitimate concern. but then again, i think the dogwhistle being subtler does tint the eyes of all viewers just enough so they don’t think they’re being ageist even if they are. it’s similar to what i found with the rhetoric surrounding clinton. but that’s just my (not very well thought out as i’m about to head out the door) opinion

  5. realitycheck, I think that you make a good point; the dogwhistle suggests a concern without bringing it forward enough for critical attention. That sounds right to me.

  6. “Confused” is just patronizing. I’d rather be called “wrong” than “confused”. If you agree it’s patronizing, then you have to wonder why Obama would be patronizing, don’t you? And the next step is, Obama is implying the reason for McCain’s confusion is his age. And if Obama is confused by something McCain has said, perhaps he should that HE’s confused rather than accusing McCain. Though I find that has more than a tinge of sarcasm to it if it’s not genuine. McCain does say things that confuse me. Till I discover he often doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I’ve never assumed that was related to his age.

    It actually frightens me that McCain doesn’t know that Iraq and Pakistan do not share a border. I don’t consider that an “on-the-spot” mistake.

    I must say, I’m not as sure about the “angry”. Though it’s a rather unusual criticism of a political opponent.

  7. McCain does, in fact, have an anger management problem. He also appears to be confused about a number of things, including geography. Tough call.

  8. it sure seems to me like an easy call. McCain is angry and confused. And dishonest and uninformed. And dangerous. we can’t afford to have him win.

  9. How to vote is an easy call indeed. But how to avoid ageism? Not so easy. I’ve been really struck by how totally acceptable people seem to think it is to mock/criticise McCain for his age.

  10. Just because someone is old doesn’t make them incompetent. Until the day she died at 103 1/2 , my Granny was the one the family went to when we couldn’t remember someone’s name or events that happened in the past. My Mom was more sharp at 89 than many younger people I know. I am coming up on 70 and strangely enough I can still manage all the things life throws at me with no help from anyone.
    I am not sitting around expecting to keel over at any moment and I am sure John McCain isn’t either.
    We can’t practice racism, or sexism but ageism is sure alive and well.

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