Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What's happening to McCain's brain?

This article from Slate gives a detailed look at what's likely to happen to John McCain's brain over the next 8 years. (It's based on general trends for anyone his age, not on anything about McCain as an individual.)

It's not all bad — there's some good and some bad. For example:

• Bad: cognitive function is believed to peak around age 50 and declines after that.

• Good: "a greater appreciation for ambiguity."

• Could go either way: old people "are easily distracted," but "that inability to filter information efficiently often means they can take in more information."

But there's no question that it matters. The article points out the obvious fact that "a 72-year-old's brain is different from that of a 46-year-old."

The author of that article has an interesting theory about how McCain's aging brain could explain his ill-advised response to the American who asked him about the prospect that we'll be in Iraq for 50 years: "Maybe 100! That'd be fine with me."

Should we even be talking about this? Of course. The idea that we need to hold back from discussing McCain's age is ludicrous.

There are plenty of situations in life when the polite, proper thing to do is to avoid mentioning someone's age. But this isn't one of those situations. He's trying to become the most powerful person in the world! If you're an American citizen, you have a responsibility to participate in deciding whether he gets the job or not. It's not only acceptable to talk about the pros and cons of his old age; we'd be abdicating our civic duties if we didn't.

I'm in my 20s; I wouldn't want someone my age to be president, which can't happen since it'd be unconstitutional. The Constitution has only an age minimum, not an age maximum . . . but the "35 years old" rule still recognizes the idea that age can be a test of someone's fitness to be president. Just because the Constitution doesn't have a rule about who's too old to be president doesn't mean you, the voter, can't have such a rule.

If he wins, McCain will start out as a 72-year-old president, and he'll be an 80-year-old president if he's successful enough to serve a full two terms. (He considered making a one-term pledge but decided against it.)

And if it's true that the presidency has a dramatic aging effect, he might end up seeming even older than 80 by the end.

Do we want our president to be that old? That's a crucial question for Americans to answer. As with many things in life, it might be "not nice" to talk about, but we cannot simply decline to think about it.

(Photo of McCain from World Economic Forum.)