A discoloration appeared on the cheek of Senator John McCain–a blemish that was removed during the routine examination conducted by his dermatologist every three months–and immediately the pundits began worrying again about his health, or more to the point his age. Should McCain win the election in November, he would be 72 when he is sworn in, making him the oldest man ever elected president. On the day Ronald Reagan was sworn in as president, he was a handful of days away from turning 70.
McCain’s age has become a running joke with the latenight comics, and McCain himself even joined in the fun when he appeared on Saturday Night Live to argue America needed to elect a president who was “very, very old.” In point of fact, if you spend any time with McCain at all, you realize that while he is indeed past 70, he certainly doesn’t act like it. The times I’ve seen him in person on the campaign trail, he looks robust and energetic, although sometimes on television he can come across as less than spry. Then again, McCain has never been one to shine on television. At his best, he appears engaged and informed, but never genetically telegenic. The townhall is McCain’s forum of choice, not the television appearance.
Not too long before this presidential cycle began, I spent some time with McCain at his weekend home in Sedona, Arizona. I was interviewing him for a national men’s magazine. We walked the grounds, with him showing me his favorite plants and trees. He barbequed that evening for friends. And after my post-dinner interview, we watched a Phoenix Suns basketball game, before I headed off to my hotel. Watching him up close, it never occurred to me that he was old. He seemed pretty much the same way he did when I first met him in late 1999, during the 2000 presidential cycle: active, on the go, determined to fill his day with as much life as possible.
Here’s something to consider. If we are going to leave racism out of the fall campaign, we should leave out ageism too.