With an editorial titled “Pope Sets Example For Other Aging Leaders,” USA Today tried laying a major guilt trip on the nation’s authority figures.
Despite using disclaimers such as “There is no magic age for retirement,” the newspaper clearly wants to shame prominent people into voluntarily giving up the reins of power.
True, the nation has no shortage of councilmen, chefs, truckers, mechanics, animal trainers, evangelists, journalists and attorneys who might conceivably become a danger to themselves or to others; but critics like to pick on the extreme cases. Like the overburdened doctor who absentmindedly left a tiny sponge sewn up near a patient’s pancreas. Granted, the doctor was a podiatrist, but …
Observing leaders with wheelchairs and round-the-clock nurses does not bother me, unless there is demonstrable interference with normal duties. I can’t imagine an aging sheriff exclaiming, “Oops. I just wet myself. By state law, all of Cletus’s speed trap tickets for the past five years are voided.”
It’s hard to achieve a totally voluntary retirement. We humans tend to under-report and make excuses. One congressman’s embarrassing “senior moment” might, technically, be what the rest of us referred to as the Pleistocene Era.
Yes, in cases of diminished capacities and increasing dementia, friends might need to stage an intervention. Luckily, researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have isolated the number one telltale sign of senility: “Dude’s political views start to diverge from yours.”
Where government officials are concerned, supporters of the voluntary retirement movement seem downright obsessed with the notion of “but they might die in office.” (Of course if the official retired and got on his/her spouse’s nerves too much, we might be worrying “but they might die in the RV.” Six of one, half a dozen of the other.)
This possibility of an incomplete term has made us the object of international pity. (“Those poor, poor Americans. They might actually have to hold a special election. If I weren’t chained to the wall upside down in this dissidents’ dungeon, I would send them some foreign aid.”)
Let’s pick and choose those whom we encourage to grab the gold watch and head for pasture. For example, Betty White, Barbara Walters and Regis Philbin still have something to offer the world. (Barbara’s recent notoriety from childhood disease chickenpox has her publicist scrambling to find out more about zits, cooties, jump rope burn and “baby bumps.”)
And wouldn’t the world be better off with a few more senile gangsters? (“Cement overshoes? You sure? I mean, we had such a bunch of Styrofoam cluttering up the joint…”)
One must weigh the moral implications of stripping prominent figures of the roles that have defined their lives. I think especially of justices of the United States. There have been judges on the Supreme Court who could remember when the Miranda rule was not “You have the right to remain silent” but “You have the right to invent a spoken language.”
What are these dedicated justices supposed to do with their days after giving up such an august position? (“Oh, I’ve taken up golf and watercolors. And knitting little polyester suits for the neighborhood squirrels. Hey, if we can decide that corporations are persons, surely I can decide that squirrels are persons, dagnabbit!”).
Danny Tyree welcomes reader e-mail responses at firstname.lastname@example.org and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.”