I don’t know Tom Schaller personally, bit I think he’s a political science wizard (full disclosure: he also happens to be my son’s academic advisor at UMBC). The trouble is that his age is showing in his “Geezer Defense” of Harry Reid’s “Negro” gaffe, posted on Politico.com. The problem is that Tom is only 42.
If he was a little bit older he might have understood that “Geezer” is a pejorative slang word that means: “A selfish, doddering old fool.” During my career as a geriatrician (a physician specializing in aging) I have met plenty of old fools who were both selfish and doddering. The problem lies with the way his use of the term conflates two separate issues, only one of which applies to the situation at hand.
Many people have had the experience of hearing older family members wield racial and ethnic stereotypes and slurs at holiday family gatherings. “Grandma! You can not say that word!” It is true that we retain much of the vocabulary we “grew up with” for the rest of our lives. Gen Xers will, even now, roll their eyes when a Boomer gushes on about how “cool” something is. It is also true that Harry Reid came of political age in the tail end of the 1950’s when America’s race-related vocabulary was very different than it is now.
Is it possible that Majority Leader Reid “slipped” and used a now archaic term for “African America?” Yes. Should he have better control of the words he uses than your Aunt Myrtle? Of course.
Ironically, Schaller’s argument is itself based on generational slang. “Geezer?” Really?
I was ready to let this pass until I got to the end of the post. Schaller concludes by suggesting that the septuagenarian Reid’s age itself could be used as a plausible excuse for his foolish, hurtful error. This is ageism, pure and simple. Imagine a society where the fact that Reid’s gaffe and the fact that he is now 70 was seen as a puzzling lapse by someone who ought to be exercising greater wisdom.
We’d all be better off if wisdom, rather than foolishness, was our default expectation for older people.
One more thing Tom, only “fuddy-duddies” still own VCRs.