Or, he may as well have. It’d be funny if it didn’t suggest an authentically myopic view about age and how it’s used to judge another’s ability and effectiveness:
At a press conference to announce her decision to retain her post as leader of the minority caucus, Nancy Pelosi opened the floor to the attending reporters and 27-year-old Luke Russert (son of the late, great, Tim Russert) put his youthful foot in his mouth by asking the following:
“Your colleagues privately say that your decision to stay on prohibits the party from having a younger leadership. What’s your response?”
See video below for her answer to that…the word “offensive” came up:
Whether or not Russert’s assertion is true (Is it? How does he know? What colleagues?), the ham-handed density of asking a respected professional woman, one who’s worked her way up the ranks as a successful member of Congress, whether or not she thinks she’s too old to be an effective leader is “offensive.” In fact, it’s offensive on a number of levels, from its implication that age alone impacts effectiveness, to the notion that an older women is ripe to receive that kind of clumsy query, right down to the perception that Russert was well aware of how “sizzling” his question was and asked it for exactly the attention it’s bringing him.
Whatever it was (and “all the above” is likely the answer), here’s some questions I’d like to present to young Mr. Russert in return:
- Have you ever asked a man that question?
- Did you know Ronald Reagan was months away from 70 when he was elected President and almost 78 when he left office?
- Do you think 42-year-old Paul Ryan’s age trumps his extremist views in considering his potential as a leader?
- Do you think Betty White should leave the stage to make room for younger comediennes?
- Do you think your mother, writer Maureen Orth, just three years younger than Pelosi, should move aside so younger writers can take her feature spots at Vanity Fair?
- Have you ever thought your (potentially) nepotistic vaunt to a high-profile position prohibits more qualified and deserving reporters from moving ahead?
Sorry, that last one was mean…but so was the question to Pelosi. Mean and disrespectful; reinforced by a later tweet Luke sent out in clear defensive posture:
“Privately gripe”? Well, not so private now that they’ve got you to be their spokes-reporter! I’m thinking lobbyist might be your next best profession, Luke.
While age allows the older person experiential perspective on youth, the reverse is not true; younger people have no idea what it’s like to be older, which precludes any true wisdom or clarity on the topic. And what they don’t know is that age is a boon to effectiveness. It allows one perspective, experience, a deeper skill set, less impulsivity, more thoughtful consideration. It also gives a person a greater awareness of time: its flight, speed and urgency, all of which translates into a sharper ability to prioritize. To place value where it’s warranted and not sweat the small stuff.
Unfortunately, we live in a time when elders are largely dismissed in lieu of the “always-younger.” I explored the phenomenon of the aging Boomer generation and our cultural case of gerascophobia (fear of growing old) in a piece called Hogging the Cultural Spotlight…You Know How We Are. It addressed the exact issue Russert threw down with his question, crassly interpreted as: does a time come for older people to step aside for younger people? Click on the piece for my expanded thoughts on the topic, but suffice it to say, the answer to that question has nothing to do with age and everything to do with ability, viability, vitality and energy. I know people in their 70’s with more energy and innovative thinking than people half their age. Age really ain’t nuthin’ but a number.
If it’s true that younger colleagues of Pelosi’s are bending Russert’s ear with their complaints about an older woman running the show, to that I say, SO WHAT? It’s typical, expected even, for youth to feel entitled, deserving, stone-cold certain that by sheer virtue of their youth, they’re better equipped to plug into a 3.0 world and show ‘em how it’s done. Maybe so when it comes to technology – Pandora beats CDs any day and, oh, they’re quick with computers – but when it comes to running a government, wisely adjudicating difficult situations, utilizing the wealth of relationships and good-will built up over years of engagement and experience…well, sometimes age not only comes before beauty, it sets the pace for eager, nimble youth running behind.