the important and the not-so-important, horribly conflated.

Points of Interest: Old People

In POI on March 11, 2010 at 4:25 pm

In reference to the current debate between the White House and the Supreme Court over last month’s campaign finance ruling, The New Yorker’s News Desk cited E.B. White’s 1937 (!) report of a clash—concerning age limits for justices— between FDR and the highest court in the land:

We are not sure we agree with President Roosevelt that seventy is the age when a Supreme Court judge should retire. If we must establish an arbitrary pension age, it should be either fifty or ninety, but not seventy. At seventy, men are just beginning to grow liberal again, after a decade or two of conservatism. Their usefulness to the state is likely to improve after the span of life which the Bible allows them to complete.

The men of eighty whom we know are on the whole a more radical, ripsnorting lot than the men of seventy. They hold life cheaply, and hence are able to entertain generous thoughts about the state. It is in his fifty-to-seventy phase that a man pulls in his ears, lashes down his principles, and gets ready for dirty weather. Octogenarians have a more devil-may-care tactic: they are sometimes quite willing to crowd on some sail and see if they can’t get a burst of speed out of the old hooker yet.

A few points: 1) This is hilarious. 2) It’s also very true. 3) It gives me hope for Jerry Brown’s (age: 71) gubernatorial campaign in CA [via The Economist]:

Mr Brown, who would be California’s oldest governor ever (older even than Ronald Reagan), admits that the job is fiendish and thankless. But he is looking forward to “the combat…the conflict and the exploration”. And the toughness of the post is all the more reason, he says, to elect somebody who knows the ropes and who has “no future” afterwards.

With people like Senator Jim Bunning (R-Crazyville, KY) highlighting the not-fun characteristics of old age—blind stubbornness, crass disregard for human suffering that doesn’t involve one’s own prostate—it’s nice to see someone campaigning on the right kind of principles: not immovable moral and ideological stances, but rather a conviction in the long-term movement towards something better.

It’s hard to play the long game when you’re 70 or 80—but it’s a lot easier to see how daily small policy shifts and public opinion pendulum swings fit into a larger historical context.


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