Rush Warns: Here Comes the Age Attack on McCain

On Wednesday's Rush Limbaugh show, the host spotted the first "Drive-By tentacle" reaching into the John-McCain's-too-old bin. In this week's Newsweek, liberal columnist Anna Quindlen takes up the case for age discrimination. "The senator's pursuit of the presidency reminds me a bit of those women who decide to have a baby in their late 50s. The impulse is understandable, the goal possible. But, looking at all the facts, and the actuarial tables, is it really sensible?"Here are the relevant McCain-dismissing passages of the Quindlen column:

...71-year-old John McCain, who actually has been beaten in captivity, may think that the fact that he would be the oldest person ever to enter the job is immaterial. In this, alas, he is mistaken.But the senator is not your average man of his age. He takes stairs slowly and cannot lift his arms to comb his hair. One reason few people want to address his age, or his infirmity, is the valor of his Vietnam service. It's humbling to consider that he broke both arms and a leg when his fighter jet was shot down, then suffered fractured shoulders and broken ribs when he was tortured during five and a half years as a POW. You can tell he thinks it should be humbling, too: when a boy at one event asked him respectfully if he was too old for the job, he responded with his trademark acerbic humor, "Thanks for the question, you little jerk."But the kid was only acknowledging the elephant on the campaign trail. There's been plenty of talk during primary season about gender and race; it's age that has become taboo.

The column ends:  

Political operatives say that his age makes McCain's choice of a running mate particularly critical. But if you enter the process stressing a hedge against mortality or incapacity, shouldn't that suggest something about suitability for the job in the first place? The senator's pursuit of the presidency reminds me a bit of those women who decide to have a baby in their late 50s. The impulse is understandable, the goal possible. But, looking at all the facts, and the actuarial tables, is it really sensible?

It's fascinating to see how easily Quindlen punctures through the politesse that everyone at Newsweek expected was mandatory in 2004 when evaluating the alleged heroism of John Kerry's service in Vietnam, which pales in comparison by time and torment to McCain's. Here's a snippet of Quindlen from the issue dated September 6, 2004 encouraging draft evasion if a draft is reinstated, since John Kerry's enemies show it's not worth serving:

Besides, if young people are meant to think that military service is noble, recent events have certainly disabused them of that notion. Of course there are soldiers who have served in Iraq with valor and dedication. But the photographs of Americans at Abu Ghraib Prison hardly make a uniform look like an worthy aspiration; instead they look as though they were taken during pledge night in the Sadist House at Dirtbag U. And the attempts by opponents to dirty up the military service of Sen. John Kerry are a valuable lesson to any sentient kid. Somehow the truth can be spun so that a decorated Vietnam veteran who chose to enlist and serve can be made to seem less heroic than a guy who used family connections to avoid combat. Not only do you go to war; when you come home, others denigrate your service, finding you insufficiently maimed.

Here's how Rush introduced it on his show:

This is the first little Drive-By tentacle to reach into the McCain camp and start raising questions about his age and everything that goes along with that. Then it's going to be his temperament, and then, "Has he shown any memory lapses out on the stump?" The Drive-Bys are going to wring their hands, "Oh, we really didn't want to talk about this, but I've seen some things..." It's going to start, folks. We all know it.
Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis