I was recently forwarded this article by Peggy Noonan about how youth has outlived its usefulness in American politics.   I was absolutely stunned by her allegations that we are in need of wise old men to guide our futures.  I want to respond to her points thoroughly, so please forgive me if this is long.

First, Ms. Noonan asserts that there is something missing in Washington and that ‘we’ (whom she is including in this we is unconfirmed. Though I suspect it is older, upperclass, white persons…) want something else — and that something is wise old men in advisory positions.  She says:

“They miss old and august. They miss wise and weathered. They miss the presence of bruised and battered veterans of life who’ve absorbed its facts and lived to tell the tale. This is a nation—a world—badly in need of adult supervision”

That presence, she goes on to say, is a father figure, one not unlike the character of Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. In these opening statements, Ms. Noonan has rejected feminism and all that feminism has done for her. Why is the ‘father figure’ the necessary metaphor? Does Ms. Noonan imagine this council of wise old men as being protectors, as someone to whisper comforting statements that reassert how much better the US is than other nations, how the US should continue unflinching down its path of racism, xenophobia, sexism etc? What about wise old women? Did they not also live through these experiences that Ms. Noonan claims are so useful in guiding politics today?  Or is her implication that their wisdom is restricted to the home, housework and raising children?  Lest she forget that she is a woman who has her job because women stood up and resisted the saturation of old white men in power.

My biggest counterpoint to her argument is that it is ‘wise old men’ who have brought us nearly endless war in the last fifty years, expedited the process of climate change and intensified environmental disasters through their lack of foresight or ability to make decisions based on more than the present situation, kept women and minorities in subordinate positions, violated human rights at home and abroad over and over again as they proclaimed the US to be a powerhouse of morality, and supported actions that impoverished people while feeding their hungry for profits and power, to name just a few of the actions of the last 50 years.

Ms. Noonan preemptively counteracts this my admitting that the group of ‘wise old men’ who counseled Lyndon Johnson to head into Vietnam, and Richard Nixon to stick around, were wrong.  She says, “We learned the wrong lesson. We should have learned, “Wise men can be wrong, listen close and weigh all data.”‘ Absolutely wise men can be wrong, see the above list of decisions made and supported by wise old men. We should absolutely listen close and weigh all data – data that comes from varying sources, data that includes listening to youth, women, minorities, etc.

Ms. Noonan goes on to bemoan how old men are hard to find because they are all retiring. This is not a new phenomenon. For years, it has been agreed that there is a time for people to step back and let someone else have their day.  This cycle is how things evolve, how new ideas take root, and how our society moves forward.

Finally, Ms. Noonan’s idea of ‘youth’ is generous: her list of young men in power includes no one under the age of 40.  I have to wonder then about her worry at the lack of “grown ups” in companies, and the lack of “adult supervision.” At 23, would she consider me a child, no better able to take care of myself and make decisions than a kindergartener? The fact remains that this generation of young people has seen more, read more, and been exposed to more than any other generation, thanks to the internet and the quick speed of global media.  Are my experiences, my exposure to world events, any less valid than someone who had never witnessed the atrocities in the world first hand just because of their age? Do not discriminate against me and my generation just because of a number – good ideas do not only come to those over the age of 60, and the ways to implement good ideas should be varied, not the same tired politics of generations passed.

Ms. Noonan ends her article by dismissing young bloggers, writers etc as senseless youths who would benefit from having the advice of an older man to tell them not to rant. Forget the irony that this is said as the last point in a rant about young people, why is she advocating for censorship of new ideas by old men? Haven’t they censored and guided enough of our history, conveniently obscuring the racism, xenophobia, sexism etc that went into building this country?

Advertisements