The Wisdom of Age


With age comes wisdom, right? I’m sure we all like to think so – especially as we see the calendar pages go flying by. It was certainly the idea in the Canadian Senate where members used to be appointed for life – but now must retire at 75. It still remains a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court of the United States where Justices routinely stay on the bench into their late seventies or early eighties.

Having observed a lot of Senators, I can tell you that most perform admirably right up to their retirement, while a few display all the foolishness you  might expect of old men (and women). Age, as far as I can see, is no guarantee of great insight, though you do have the advantage of accumulated successes and failures to guide you.

If age were a true measure of fitness to govern, Robert Mugabe, at 91, the oldest current head of state, must be one hell of a guy. True, he sometimes stumbles – both physically and intellectually – but what the hell? He’s got all that wisdom, right?

Most societies tend to be gerontocracies – that is ruled by people much older than the average or median population. In the 1950s, leaders were typically in their late 60s while populations were, on average, around 35 in age. That gap has narrowed in recent years – to a mere 12 years – as world populations have aged and a new generation of leaders come on board. I expect it will begin to rise again as that generation holds on to power as firmly as the last one managed to do.

Which brings me to more current concerns. Here in Canada, we have our youngest PM since Joe Clark had the job in 1979. The new leader of the Conservative party is almost certainly going to be from the new generation, that is, someone in their 40s. The NDP, on the other hand, have a leader – who seems determined to hold on – who will be 65 when the next election is held. At the risk of sounding ageist, is that really wise?

I’ve been thinking I need to get with it, be hip, cool, or whatever the young people are saying these days. I’ve been thinking that from now on I won’t vote for a leader or a candidate who is older than me. So Tom Mulcair is out by about 6 months.

I’d be hard pressed to know who to support in the USA. If we had a Trump-Sanders final ballot we’d be looking at two candidates who would be sworn into the White House well past the age of 70. That makes them both older than Reagan who was 69 (and 11.5 months) at the start of his first term and was of questionable intellectual capacity at the end of his second.

Even Hilary Clinton would be over 69 on Inauguration day (her husband was 46). Many of the other GOP candidates are also older than me. That leaves Cruz and Rubio – who would be among the youngest men (Teddy Roosevelt and JFK both beat them out) to ever sit in the Oval Office. Trouble is: While I may not be convinced that age leads to wisdom, I’m pretty sure electing either of them would be nothing more than foolish.

So: Go Martin O’Malley!

And that’s ten minutes.

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