If elected, Senator Clinton would be the first woman President of the United States; if elected, Senator Obama would be the first African-American President; and if elected, Senator McCain would not only be the first President from his generation - the Silent Generation - he would represent the new face of how America is redefining age.
How old is 72? Both Democrat and Republican strategists expect Senator McCain's age to remain a campaign issue. According to a recent article in Reuters, McCain impresses his much-younger aides with his stamina.
In the same article, Cardiologist James Rippe says "it is a legitimate question...to ask, is his health adequate to be in the White House...arguably the world's most stressful job."
One of the country's leading generational experts, Ann A. Fishman, says there is a broader, more important political question to address: What would it be like to have our first-ever President from the "Silent Generation" occupying the White House, and how are voters likely to identify with him?
Spotlight on The Silents
The Silent Generation, born between 1925 and 1942, has not produced a President so far, but has produced every great Civil Rights leader & almost every feminist leader.
Says Fishman, "Because it was wedged between two powerful generations - the World War II Generation and the huge Baby Boom generation, the Silent Generation never received the attention that those two generations did; but their major contribution was to humanize their world... we can thank them for the civil rights movement and the women's movement."
Today, Silents see themselves as vital and active people in the prime of life, and are pioneers in changing the way all of us view aging.
Fishman concludes, "They respond positively to messages that talk about life style changes ... not about age per se."
And that is where the McCain candidacy and Presidency is likely to be unique: McCain might reach out to address needs according to the "life stages" of Americas, rather than addressing simply the ages of Americans.
For example, says Fishman, "Since Silents are a generation of helpers - and at this stage are concerned with helping their grandchildren - a McCain Presidency could push harder for Medicare and Social Security reforms, to ensure that grandchildren won't be stuck with an unpayable bill."
Policy considerations aside, however, it's clear that a McCain candidacy, and potential Presidency, would cast a different light on the issue of age in politics.
"Silent" McCain Steps Out
"Politicians, pundits and voters make clear that race should not be an issue in the campaign, nor should gender," says Fishman, "But, age, or rather the negativity associated with aging, seems to be fair game."
This, advises Fishman, is a tactical mistake. "Candidates, reporters and spin doctors run the risk of alienating one of America's most loyal blocks of voters each time Senator McCain's age is brought up. Grandmothers, consultants, entrepreneurs as well as active and vital Baby Boomers (48 to 65) are not spending their time looking ahead to the "old folks home" - they may well identify with a President who provides the 'vitality of aging' that they are accustomed to, and identify with personally."
Just as members of the Silent Generation were the original pioneers in the Civil Rights movement and the feminist movement, they are now pioneers defining this new stage in life, says Fishman - a stage of life in which one can run marathons, start new careers . . . and yes, even become President.
According to Fishman, "The definition of the appropriate age for retirement, age 70, was originally set by the Chancellor of the German Empire, Otto von Bismarck in 1889, when Germany became the first nation in the world to adopt an old-age social insurance program. It was set at a time when manual labor set the tone of the day."
But Bismarck is a long time and a long way away from 21st-century America and the predilections of its voters, concludes Fishman.
"Rather than focusing on Senator McCain's age as an impediment, Silents and aging Boomers may just be ready for an active 72 year-old President who shares the style, the values and the life experiences that reflects where they are today."
If so, it may be the ultimate irony that if he can keep the issue in the right perspective for the right voters, John McCain's age may be the strongest political asset he has.
About the Generational Approach
Based on Fishman's research into the habits and values of America's six living generations - the G.I. Generation, the Silent Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y and Generation 9/11, each generation brings a distinctive set of traits, habits and characteristics. These are important as keys to understanding political dynamics and voting patterns in elections.
Fishman says, "While understanding these generational differences certainly make politics challenging, the candidate who respects them and communicates coherent strategies for each group will thrive now and in years ahead."
Fishman's company, Generational-Targeted Marketing Corp. (GTM), is a specialized marketing firm providing insight into consumer preferences, buying habits and trends affecting the American consumer. As GTM's president, Fishman has served as a consultant to numerous corporations, government agencies and non-profit organizations on generational issues and has presented her theories to those groups. She is a member of the Adjunct Faculty at New York University.
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