By Dave Simpson, columnist
Two guys turning 80 this year were featured on the “CBS Sunday Morning” program in recent weeks, and both had interesting things to say about being old.
Political consultant David Gergen’s piece aired on May 8, and famed storyteller Garrison Keillor was featured May 15. Gergen turned 80 this month. Keillor will be 80 in August.
I was interested because I respect my elders, and these days there aren’t many elders left.
(I’ve watched CBS Sunday Morning for 40 years, since the good old days of host Charles Kuralt, those wonderful nature segments at the end of the show, and “Postcards from Nebraska” from Roger Welsch. The show today – knee-jerk liberal, with the nature segment throttled down to about a minute – can’t hold a candle to the past. But I keep watching.)
I don’t trust Gergen much, because he worked for four different presidents in Washington – three Republicans and one Democrat. You have to keep an eye on a guy who can work for both the Hatfields and the McCoys.
He had something interesting to say, however, about turning 80, and the need for the powers that be to hand over the reins to younger politicians.
“It’s time for the torch to pass,” he said. President Joe Biden’s time in the White House “should end with this term,” because there have been “too many leadership failures, and not too many successes.”
You can make a good case for torch passing. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is 82. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer turns 83 next month. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is 80. Senator Diane Feinstein is 88. Senator Chuck Grassley is 88, and he’s running for another six-year term.
Haven’t these folks heard that normal people retire at 65? What is so intoxicating about a job in Washington that they want to hang around long after the bloom is off the rose?
For some, addiction to politics is like a dog that gets into killing chickens or sheep. You can’t train it out of them.
We’re lucky in Wyoming, where most who head off to Washington stay for a few terms, then come home to the state they’ve professed to love for years. Most don’t go native in Washington, and that’s a good thing. (Sadly, Mike Enzi didn’t get much time to enjoy life back home before his tragic accident.)
Garrison Keillor – who packed them in at a recent Prairie Home Companion reunion in Denver – is at peace with his age.
“It’s a great age,” he said, “because you lose your ambition, but you still have your work. And this is such a blessing.” His latest book is titled, “Serenity at 70, Gaiety at 80: Why You Should Keep on Getting Older.”
Moving on to something better in life than a working career shouldn’t be so hard. An old college friend worked on Wall Street for years, but says today – at around 70 – there’s no way he could handle the incredible stress he endured in his 40s and 50s. At 71, in my case, I can’t imagine handling the pressure of daily deadlines, corporate expectations, budgets, and finding reporters willing to work and capable of writing coherent sentences – headaches I put up with for decades.
And yet we have a leader of the free world who is about to turn 80. His diminished state is increasingly obvious.
Hearing gets tougher, and recalling names becomes a challenge as you age. And it’s so random. I have to think hard to remember who Jimmy Carter’s vice president was. (Wait! Wait! Walter Mondale!). And yet “Love Boat” character “Gopher” came up in conversation the other night (he would later serve in Congress) and his name popped readily to mind: Fred Grandy.
Gopher? Go figure.
It’s good to see David Gergen and Garrison Keillor at peace with their age. These politicians who want to hang around into their dotage should take note.
It’s a wonderful thing to wake up with nothing much on the agenda other than coffee with your pals, work on things you love to do, and precious time bouncing grand kids on arthritic knees.
These neo-octogenarians should give it a try.