Seeing the shades of gray in politics
For better or worse, we will be dissecting the 2020 election results for many months.
So, I’d like to dust off my scalpel and dissect a group of voters. For better or worse, I am very familiar with them.
We vote more often than any other age group.
We give more money to candidates than any other age group.
We do phone banking and door-knocking as much as, and often more than, any other age group.
If any campaign still needed envelope- or stamp-lickers, I’m sure we oldies would lead the league in that category, too.
But why are we so engaged? Is it because of our own agendas? Or because we are thinking (as we vote, as we give, as we knock) of the world we will leave behind?
Of course, for me and for many of us, it’s both.
In 2020, as I filled out my ballot, I said to myself: “This vote is for my community, my country, my world. But it’s also for my grandson.
“This is for your future, kiddo.”
This is my way of trying to atone for all that I didn’t do — or do well enough — in the last 7.5 decades. To make the world a smidge better for you, Mr. Cutie-who-shares-my-last-name.
Yet many older Americans — understandably doubtful about politics and politicians — vote a certain way because they are worried about themselves.
They vote to retain Medicare and Social Security above all else. They vote for handicapped access, more convenient parking, better lighting in public libraries — a whole raft of items that might seem selfish.
And there’s the rub.
Each of us gets only one vote for each office. As we cast it, can we really hope that the candidate we choose will be that miracle-worker who does it all? Who keeps us hale and hearty, and provides light bulbs in public libraries, too? And at the same time does what’s best for the little cuties in our lives?
Please forgive the stardust in my eyes, but I think the answer is yes.
I think that older voters are damned so often for being selfish, when they are in fact being tactical. Older voters study candidates and vote with their heads as much as their hearts. They tend to see candidates as executives, not vessels for ideology or partisanship.
And older voters understand the system. If they vote, they know they have a voice. If they don’t vote, they can bay at the moon until the next election all they like. But they know, somewhere down deep, that they should really be baying at themselves.
Proving all this can be a fool’s errand, I realize. But accustomed as I am to be being called a fool (and occasionally to being one), I convened a jury of my peers.
These are 70-somethings whom I’ve befriended (and vice versa) for many eons. They are an engaged, accomplished bunch — eager to get out of bed in the morning; not reflexively gloomy about the future.
I laid out the question: Are older voters selfish, selfless or both?
Juror One: “Older voters know that it cannot only be about saving Social Security. You save Social Security by understanding the overall budget. So, I vote for people who fill that bill. That’s not selfish. It’s strategic.”
Juror Two: “I never vote for anyone because of their campaign ads. I’m afraid a lot of people do. I dig into the public record. That’s my experience speaking, not selfishness.”
Juror Three: “When I was young, I tended to vote based on a single issue. You know, end the war in Vietnam, extend civil rights in the South. Big hopes, big aims. Now, I vote based on 51 percent. If a candidate will deliver 51 percent of what I think the world needs, that’s my pick. Far from selfish, I’d say.”
Juror Four: “I’d love to say that I keep my grandchildren in mind as I vote. But honestly, I don’t, because I can’t imagine the world they’ll inhabit. So, I vote for what’s right in front of my nose, and all noses. Attack climate change. Improve infrastructure. More jobs for more people. Better for the old, better for the young. I’m trying to have my cake and eat it, too, huh?”
Indeed, you are, Juror Four. But doesn’t cake taste better when you both have it and eat it?
Let’s all push against those who would pigeon-hole older voters as either selfish, or daffy, or stupidly sentimental on behalf of our grandkids.
We elderlies see nuance, and we see shades of gray. Long may that continue.
Bob Levey is a national award-winning columnist.