I doubt that anyone is surprised that the GOP is preemptively attacking Hillary Clinton based on her age. Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Karl Rove, Republican strategist, have both been busy in the media casting doubts on whether Ms. Clinton is fit to run for office based on age and health.
Ageism and sexism are an expected distasteful political strategy that more than anything demonstrates how little of substance they have to criticize about her. Senator Claire McCaskill is dismissive of these “cheap shots,” and Senator Dianne Feinstein points out quite correctly that Ms. Clinton is “in the prime of her political life.”
This is true of all of us. We have more to give, not less, as leaders and change makers with each passing year: more experience and more wisdom, plus the ability to tell it like it is and focus on what really matters.
Of course, Hillary Clinton’s age is not the only issue here. Many have pointed out that Reagan was only 8 months younger than she would be when taking office, not to mention the other older candidates, such as John McCain, supported by conservatives in the past.
The difference, of course, is that they were men. Both genders experience ageism, but for women, the bigotry is especially potent. Ageism is always mixed with and strengthened by sexism, and as much as we might like to believe that both forms of prejudice exist only in the Republican narrative, the truth is that they are embedded in our society’s story about aging and women, in our story. No matter our political stance, age, or gender, we have all internalized this narrative to some degree.
I’ve heard from clients and colleagues and even family members that Hillary Clinton is too old to run, yet when I press for an age that is “too old,” no one is able to answer me. There is no such age. The myth that there is has its roots in views and expectations about aging that have gone unquestioned for decades, perhaps centuries, not changing even as we live longer, healthier lives to unprecedented ages.
The entire concept of there being some magic number when we’re too old to lead, to pursue our greatest visions, to change the world is a myth. We parrot it, even to ourselves, believing we’re too old to try something new or to take the next big leap. We rarely think to question it, yet when we do, we find it falls apart. Ageism has no basis in reality.
It’s time to change the story we tell as a society and the story we tell about ourselves. For women especially, the old misogynistic story about aging is a powerful weapon against them, a mis-story that starts when we’re young, in how we view older women, and only builds from there, preventing us from realizing the potential for greatness that ripens in our third and fourth age.
We owe it to ourselves and to generations to come to step forward visibly to be not who we should be as we age but who we can be. The Age of Greatness is in our grasp, not only as individuals but as a nation and a planet.
Featured image by PAN Photo.