November 10, 2014; Daily Journal (Kankakee, IL)
The various rants of HBO’s Bill Maher generate lots of reactions, ranging from veneration to disgust. His recent rant on the “last acceptable prejudice”—ageism—is worth listening to.
Maher expressed distress that California Governor Jerry Brown isn’t being discussed as a potential Democratic candidate for president in 2016. What is holding Brown back? The fact that he has been governor of California twice—from 1975 to 1983, and currently since 2011? That he has also been California’s Attorney General (2007-2011), Oakland’s mayor (1999-2007), and California’s Secretary of State (1971-1975)? That he used to host a talk show on the Pacifica radio station KPFA?
Or that he used to date Linda Ronstadt (uh, for those who don’t know, she was an amazing singer, first famous with the Stone Poneys in the 1960s and later going off on her own to sing solo as well as pairing up with the likes of Neil Young, the Eagles, Warren Zevon, and Frank Zappa)?
Maybe that’s it: Jerry Brown is overqualified to be president. He’s simply lived too long, learned too much, and managed so much that he simply doesn’t fit the bill of voting for a president usually of somewhat lesser qualifications. Or, simply, Brown is 76, and it’s OK to dismiss old people out-of-hand, not admitting that the reason for the rejection is that they’re simply old and our nation doesn’t value old.
Sign up for our free newsletters
Subscribe to NPQ's newsletters to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.
Maher’s point about Brown’s age may be exaggerated a bit. The Republican Party elected Ronald Reagan to serve as president well into his 70s. Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee-in-waiting, will be 69 upon entering the White House if she wins the 2016 election.
Nonetheless, his rant struck a chord with those of us who have long passed our Gen-X and Millennial stages and have lost job opportunities that we were more than qualified for, but for our birthdates in the 1950s or, oh my, the 1940s.
It must be a big issue for Maher who, at 58, is a veritable youngster compared to some of the icons he cited, including Larry King (whose television replacement “disproved the adage that all English people are smart”), the Rolling Stones (in contrast to Justin Bieber), Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Warren Buffett, and more. Youth culture’s obsession with big butts, one topic in Maher’s six-minute monologue, was new to some of us, but his point—our youth-obsessed culture—was clear and powerful, and it applies quite accurately to nonprofits and philanthropy.
Don’t throw us oldsters to the curb because of our gray hair, sagging waistlines, and occasional memory gaps. Don’t assume that those decades we spent in the nonprofit sector doing organizing, advocacy, civil-rights-marching, and more don’t count for something, that they were wasted efforts now to be supplanted by the greater knowledge of the newly minted. And don’t patronize us by saying how much the knowledge of us graybeards is valued, only to be ignored in practice.
You don’t have to support Jerry Brown for president—those of us who remember his first go-around in Sacramento recall his nickname, “Governor Moonbeam”—but you ought to give us oldsters a little more credit and a little less patronizing dismissal for our experience in this field.—Rick Cohen