Do Old People ‘Have a Duty To Die And Get Out Of The Way?’
Ageism is back. “You’re too damned old” is back. Bigly.
Back in 1984, I interviewed then Colorado Governor Richard Lamm for a business magazine that I was the editor of at the time. Lamm had just gone viral — the old fashioned pre-internet way — with a much-requoted speech that argued that “old people have a duty to die and get out of the way.”
What he actually said was that elderly people who are terminally ill have a duty to die and get out of the way instead of trying to prolong their lives by artificial means. But, as with so many of today’s memes, the context was forever lost.
Gov. Lamm, who will be 84 in August and is still working as co-director of the Institute for Public Policy Studies at the University of Denver, is a CPA by training and one of those policy wonks who believe that making health care policy decisions based on what is best for every individual rather than society as a whole is wasteful, unsustainable and, ultimately, immoral. It’s not a popular position but it is rational and has plenty of quiet advocates.
And it’s hardly a new concept. One of my favorite movies of all times is Japanese filmmaker Shôhei Imamura’s 1983 The Ballad of Narayama, which is based on a 19th-century practice called obasute, in which elderly infirmed people who became a burden to their families were carried into the mountains and abandoned to the “Gods.”
I began with this story because age and ageism are back in the news. Joe Biden’s first debate performance and Donald Trump’s not so subtle digs about Biden being “Sleepy Joe” and “not the man I remember” are obvious attempts to paint Biden as “too old” and “out of touch.” The speculation about Robert Meuller’s testimony “performance” has been topic one among the chattering heads in the days since. Words like “acuity” and “optics” are endlessly bantered around to the detriment of the substance of his monumental 448-page report.
Joe Biden is getting the same treatment from younger people in his own party. If he doesn’t come off like a young Ronald Reagan in the debate this week, he’s toast.
True, Donald Trump is only one year younger than Meuller but he has been loudly promoting himself…