A Yankee Notebook, Columns

The Reason Should be Fairly Obvious

by Willem Lange

EAST MONTPELIER – Increasingly, as time goes on, I find myself less and less interested in the Facebook pages that purport to tell “the startling truth” of the breakup of celebrities: Was it his devotion to Scientology or hers to a wanderlust? Who cares?

Just as frequently, however, I’m attracted to posts (of any fact-based items based upon something stronger than opinion) about the apparent occasional physical or mental failures among the geriatric set of our federal legislators or executives.

Media videographers always salivate over juicy (and public) failures. They get a lot more clicks on the Internet than discussions about the budget, except when some hammerhead congressman shouts, “You lie!” from the mid-benches. Thus, when Joe Biden tripped over a sandbag left in his way on the stage, it became an item of intense interest to the media. “Is he too old for the job?” asked the pundits and – though this is not supposed to be their job description – the news readers and hosts, as well. Joe Biden’s six years younger than I, and I still feel fairly acute mentally, though I’ve fallen seven times so far this year, broken a few bones, and have occasional lapses (I couldn’t remember the disease afflicting Michael J Fox!), but the key to my reluctance to run lies in the phrase, “acute mentally.” There’s no way a totally rational person would ever desire the president’s job, often described as the worst in the world, so I cut Joe some slack. Besides, I’m a Democrat.

I can cut Dianne Feinstein some slack, too. She’s only two years older than I, has had shingles like me (though I took the precaution afterward of getting the vaccine), and makes her way through airports in a wheelchair (as often I do, too). But since her long absence with shingles, she’s seemed markedly less alert and sometimes, apparently, doesn’t quite know where she is. That’s a serious problem.

But perhaps worse seems the apparent aphasia that rendered Senator McConnell mute right in the middle of a laundry list of wonderful things the Republicans are doing for us. He shut right down for almost half a minute, staring blankly at the audience of journalists, photographers, and videographers, until the wallpaper guys behind him realized there was a problem, and a senator eased him into the wings to recover. Which he did, in about half an hour. You’ll recall that Senator McConnell took a serious fall in March at the Waldorf-Astoria in Washington, and was out of action for six weeks with a concussion and broken ribs. And he’s only 81! It appears that some of his wiring got scrambled, as did Feinstein’s, by the injury.

More and more we’re becoming a gerontocracy, wherein the wisdom of age substitutes for fresh ideas and fresh approaches. The reason for it should be fairly obvious. I’ve walked the halls of Congress – the magnificent rotunda, the august congressional chambers – and felt the sense of personal importance that I would fall victim to, should that ever be my mailing address, especially if I were elected to multiple terms. It’s called Washington Fever. It’s pernicious, and when you get asked to lunch often enough with lobbyists who convince you’re the greatest thing ever to happen to your state – hell, your country! – you can catch it.

I have very little patience with folks who beatify the good old days, when we played outside till the street lights went on and ate whatever food was placed before and . . . you know the script. The strong implication is that these things are what has made us so great. It often ends with a snarky, judgmental comment about the cellphone generation.

Excuse me. Am I missing something here? What’s so great about the various pickles in which we find ourselves at the moment? And who’s gotten us here?

I likely won’t be around to see it – nor will many of you – but I’m pretty sure our salvation lies in the generation called Gen Z. They’re graduates of mass shooting protocols and COVID shutdowns, and now face a congressional virulence not seen since, say, 1858. “Communism!” doesn’t stampede them. One we’re going to be hearing from is David Hogg, a survivor of a school massacre. The phenomenon of a congressman going head-to-head with “gun activists” will be a welcome change.

In fact, as we move the geriatrics out of power and enact change, most of it will be welcome – except to you-know-who.

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