Douglas Hill
opinion, humor and small town common sense
Saturday, May 17, 2008

Aging Gracelessly

This year I became a sexagenarian, which is not nearly as exotic as that might sound to some. In fact, to my mind, the word is the very definition of irony; the coincidence of ancient Latin and the modern idiom to produce what is effectively a one-word oxymoron.

I am not happy about it. According to my wife, I’ve been in a foul mood for the entire decade leading up to it. (I wasn’t too happy about 50 either, or now that I think of it, about 40.)

There are those who age gracefully. I am not one of them. Worse, I look the part, which is to say my persona screams, “past fresh date.” It does not help that I have white hair, which I have had for as long as I can remember – increasingly, a shrinking duration of time. I have taken to carrying a small notebook around in my pocket, for reasons I can’t recall.

I have even noticed that more people smile at me on the street, now that I am a non-threatening old guy. Behind the smile they are thinking, “Thank God I’m not that old.”

I have looked old since childhood. When I was in kindergarten my teacher would raise her hand to speak to me; and on the occasion of my first communion a parishioner asked me for my blessing.

It’s just that I have never actually been old.

Of course, I won’t technically be a senior citizen for another five years. Small consolation.

You’d think I’d be used to it. I have been passing for a senior with young people for decades, thanks to my premature gray-turned-white hair. Kids selling pizzas or movie tickets have been giving me senior discounts since my late 30s. To them anyone over 30 is old anyway; in my case, my hair cinched the “really old” deal. My wife always exhorted me to give the difference back, but my position was that the lie was theirs, not mine, and that it was small enough compensation for the insult.

I have passed for a senior with older people too. I got married at age 35, and when my wife and I were looking at houses, after asking my wife what she thought of a particular house we were viewing, the agent turned to me and asked, “And what does your father think of it?” Now, my wife was no child bride, being two years younger than I.

When my mother was being treated at Massachusetts General Hospital a decade or so ago, my father and I met with the managing physician. He was introduced to us as the Chief of Oncology, but I could swear I recognized him as one of the snot-nosed little [expletive] that had sold me a discounted movie ticket some years ago. My suspicion was not diminished when he asked which of us was the husband, and which the son.

More recently, as I was about to pull open a door to enter a store, a gentleman who was clearly 10 to 15 years my senior, bounded in front of me, pulled the door open, and said, “There you go, young fella.”

But I do not obsess about my advancing age, notwithstanding that each day I must grapple with the truth that I am one day older.

My old friend Bob Sweeney passed away this past year at age 100. Bob never gave in to age. He was my idol. From time to time we would lunch on the deck at the yacht club, and Bob would enthrall me with tales from the past, and of waterfront characters he had known. I never felt especially old around Bob – more like a peer.

I am patiently waiting for re-runs of the BBC productions, “One Foot in the Grave,” and “Waiting for God” on PBS, but clearly, I’m not getting any younger.

I have found some small solace in political correctness. While it is more convenient for me to buy my cigars at the liquor store here in Lanesville, I sometimes nonetheless drive down to Shaw’s to get them – they always card me to make sure I’m over 18-years-of-age.

Now I have to start planning for the big 70, which is only ten years away, so don’t expect me to be in a good mood any time soon.

The Election Cycle Circus

The myth of the election cycle circus is that we get to choose a president, senator or congressman with our vote. That is simply not true. The Washington power brokers – Party Democrats and Party Republicans – offer to us as candidates selections from within their own ranks, controlled by the vested power interests, for us to choose from. We must choose a Party man – a Democrat or a Republican – and it is precisely that control over the selection pool that perpetuates the power of the vested interests. The parties groom professional politicians – men whose political ambition drives them to go along to get along as they ascend the ladder of political power. Their allegiance lies with the party bosses who can make or break their careers and to the perpetuation of the party’s power, which informs the strategy of their progress and future – not with the voting electorate.

It pays.

Al Gore reportedly declared assets of less than $2 million prior to his run for the presidency; I read that recently he invested $35 million dollars in an investment firm that specializes in investing in makers of environmentally friendly products. He is reputed to have made more than $100 million since his defeat in that presidential bid – that’s a lot of green, even for an environmentalist. Global warming has been good to Al. He would no doubt like to see his investments flourish. The Financial Times just reported that the Climate Solutions Fund, the investment vehicle headed by Al Gore, has closed a new $683 million fund which invests in early-stage environmental companies. It is one of the biggest such funds.

The Clintons reported earnings of $109 million since Bill left office, after reporting assets of only $2 million in 2003. That’s an amazing amount of change to have amassed in the span of a few years. Politics pays.

The Obamas, who suffered the burden of college loans incurred for educations at Princeton, Columbia and Harvard law school struggled mightily, in near deprivation we are told by the underprivileged Michelle, until Barack made his first couple of million. But they are just getting started, and may be excused for not being filthy rich – yet. They made $4.2 million last year. It will take a few more Rezko deals before they achieve financial parity with their peers – fortunes that would make even the most depraved corporate CEO blush. Men of the people – all.

Washington is Hollywood on steroids.

The vested interests include not only the deal-making politicians, but the money men and power bosses as well. Many gulp without reserve at the well of our tax dollars. Special interest lobbyists spend lavishly with the expectation of far greater returns. A support cast of pollsters, publicists, consultants, lawyers, media, hair stylists and hookers make more in an hour than most of us make in a week.

The party rolls on.

And it’s only getting worse with each election. As the exercise of political authority over our community becomes increasingly remote – state and federal – our unique circumstances and our unique problems do not factor into the exigencies of the deal-makers of that increasingly centralized authority. We are being mandated, regulated and managed from afar, by people who do not even know the name of our city, while we beg for relief from their bureaucratic bludgeoning.

The constituency is reluctantly remembered in election years, when a bone is tossed to the electorate to “purchase” their friendship and support. The politician tosses back a small fraction of what the government has taken with an earmark, with the expectation of fawning gratitude. Chump change. Crumbs.

We wonder at our frustration when with each successive election we perpetuate the myth with our vote, with the same result, and yet somehow expect that things will be different this time. Someone once said that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over, with the same result, but each time expecting a different outcome.

People say they want change, yet continue to do the same thing, without changing their own actions, and wonder why nothing has changed. And yet, there is an easy way to end this political madness that is only worsening with each election.

Real change in the politics of this country can only be achieved by removing the mantle of power from the power brokers who now control, groom and manipulate the selection-pool of political candidates, and by reversing the long-standing trend of the transfer of governance from the local community, where it is most effectively and fairly applied, to increasingly remote and centralized authority, where it is least effectively and most unjustly applied.

This is easily accomplished, and will not require that we form up on Lexington Green.

Our enemy is the political party system – both Democrat and Republican – which grooms and nurtures professional politicians in a system of rewards and punishments designed to consolidate and perpetuate power and wealth – the political machine.

Our elected professional politicians do not engage in reasoned dialectic to arrive at a consensus of what is best for us; they do not vote their minds and their conscience. They posture and make grave speeches to an empty assembly for the benefit of the Congressional Record. The party whips do their job, and votes are cast along party lines. Any politician who does not toe the party line will suffer the sanctions of the party bosses, and more. The struggle is one of power, not of enlightenment.

The professional politician is a pretender whose currency is a favor. His position on any matter changes with the audience whom he is addressing at the time. A politician’s vote is predicated on his party affiliation, not on his conscience. He knows what he must do to survive in party politics – as some ladies have known from time immemorial.

Contrast that with what might be.

Consider a congress of unaffiliated individual representatives – each limited to a single term of office.

By that single move, entrenched power in Washington would be eradicated.

Without re-election looming, the elected representative would not be beholden to special interest groups for donations to a re-election campaign, would not be beholden to any party boss for favors, would not need to waste his time, better spent on the people’s business, lying to crowds in a re-election bid, and would be free to do the business of the people honestly without fear or pressure.

Without professional politicians, people of the community, of diverse backgrounds and experiences – teachers, tradesmen, businessmen – would bring real-world experience to the table as representatives of their communities, and would have a genuine interest in solving the problems of the community, through honest political discourse, rather than the politics of party-line votes and gridlock in an endless struggle for power and supremacy over the other.

With that, the whole incestuous circus that is Washington would be utterly drained of its current power. The right of governance would of necessity flow back to the people and the community in more appropriate balance.

This scenario is neither radical nor a pipe dream. It is easily done – with the political will of the electorate. For now, we still have the ultimate authority with our vote, even if as an electorate we are fragmented and unorganized.

Political parties are even less necessary than desirable. Communities could put forward candidates for office through caucuses or town meetings. Surely once every four or six years an individual of reasonable intelligence and good character could be persuaded to serve a term of office. Public television could be employed as a forum for candidates to give an account of their thinking on various issues, and the voters make their selection, possibly through a regional primary, followed by a general election.

As a first step, we certainly have the power to limit a politician to a single term of office only – and that doesn’t even require a constitutional amendment; simply vote every incumbent out of office, every time. No exceptions.

That’s not only real change; it’s a change for the better.
Henry David Thoreau

Simon & Garfunkel

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