Election 2008 McCain Politics

Old Men Are Dangerous


Old men are dangerous: It doesn’t matter to them what is going to happen to the world.

So says the 88-year old Captain Shotover in George Bernard Shaw’s play Heartbreak House. Of course, this sentiment could just as easily apply to those who believe we are in the End Times. John McCain, with his questionable temperament, just exacerbates this danger. Add to this McCain’s flair for drama, the personality cult that McCain has built around himself, and his tendency to demonize his opponents.

“It doesn’t matter to them what is going to happen to the world.”

Think of Iran; deregulation; “killing” the United Nations; health care; massive tax cuts offset only by cutting pork; and of course, war and empire.

A man who lived his youth “looking for hardship, danger, horror, and death that [he] might feel the life in [him] more intensely” now seeks, in market his old age, by invoking the virtues of his being disinterested, of being “above politics,” of “putting country first.” This is McCain story – of an irresponsible youth – who is now wise with old age. Yet, as he wrote, “Often my haste is a mistake, but I live with the consequences without complaint.” Poetic – and an apt description of how McCain’s wisdom is limited by his personality. (While Obama’s wisdom is reinforced by his patience and focus.)

Old men have their uses – but today’s crises – financial meltdowns, terrorism, war, climate change – call for a young man who will have to live in the world he has wrought, after his power has ebbed. Just as in 1960 the nuclear standoff of the Cold War needed a new generation to take responsibility, to come into power, to wrest away from their elders the burden and privilege of leadership – so today, we must. We will live in the nation, the world created by the actions of the next president. It is important that the next president realize he must live with the consequences of his actions.

Below the jump is the context of this quote in Shaw’s play which is actually very interesting as well. The second line – a question by a young woman – describes exactly the tact McCain has taken to marketing his old age. Captain Shotover’s response reveals some other similarities with McCain – although I cannot imagine McCain being as honest or reflective.

CAPTAIN SHOTOEVER: Old men are dangerous: It doesn’t matter to them what is going to happen to the world.

ELLIE: I should have thought nothing else mattered to old men. They can’t be very interested in what is going to happen to themselves.

CAPTAIN SHOTOVER: A man’s interest in the world is only the overflow from his interest in himself. When you are a child, your vessel is not yet full; so you care for nothing but your own affairs. When you grow up, your vessel overflows; and you are a politician, a philosopher, or an explorer and adventurer. In old age the vessel dries up: there is not overflow; you are a child again. I can give you the memories of my ancient wisdom: mere scraps and leavings; but I no longer really care for anything but my own little wants and hobbies. I sit here working out my ideas as a means of destroying my fellow-creatures. I see my daughters and their men living foolish lives of romance and sentiment and snobbery. I see you, the younger generation, turning from their romance and sentiment and snobbery to money and comfort and hard common sense. You are looking for a rich husband. At your age, I was looking for hardship, danger, horror, and death that I might feel the life in me more intensely. I did not let the fear of death govern my life; and my reward was, I had my life. You are going to let the fear of poverty govern your life; and your reward will be that you will eat, but you will not live.

[Image courtesy of christhedunn, licensed under Creative Commons.]

4 replies on “Old Men Are Dangerous”

> “It doesn’t matter to them what is going to happen to the world.”

Pretty small-minded, really. I’m an “old man” — just turned sixty — and I may not be as concerned about my own future as I was when I was younger, but I’m certainly extremely concerned about my daughter’s. In brief, the question isn’t as much about age as it is about Mr. McCain.

Otherwise, I’m in complete agreement.

I don’t mean to endorse this view of “old men” unconditionally. But I do think it reveals something about being old. John McCain’s various other attributes make these effects of age worse.

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