September 5, 2009
Remember the Golden Oldies, Dr. EmanuelBy Yale Kramer, MD
How humane, how civilized, liberal values have made America. We've gotten rid of the death penalty, and all other cruel and unusual punishments. So Charles Manson -- murderer of nine people -- and hundreds of other murderers can live out their lives in relative comfort, not having to worry about where their next meal is coming from, or freezing in the winter, or having to do hard labor, or miss their weight-lifting routines or basketball games.
We've gotten rid of torture of our national enemies who may harbor dangerous knowledge. So they can breathe easy and mock our weakness and stupidity.
Alas, it seems that only innocent, non-threatening old timers who've never hurt anybody or threatened anybody, and who've lived out their law-abiding lives quietly and independently have been forgotten in the liberal calculus of humaneness and civility. Murderers get life, old timers get a humiliating lecture and a gentle shove to the funeral home. Nothing like the left to get things right.
Now that Obama is in full charge of things this is what we can look forward to. On April 14 he told us.
Who? Someone like Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, health advisor to Obama, and Zeke's brother Rahm, who loves to hurl thunderbolts from Mount Olympus and bully freshman congressmen. They and their ilk will give us "guidance" about who is worthwhile, who is ready to die, who shall live a week or two longer. Zeke is a Harvard academic who is arrogant enough to believe that he can change human nature and decide the most intimate and complex of human issues -- those of life and death. The man, a bona fide MD, clearly prefers writing bushels of words about what's good or bad for society to caring for people and being responsible for suffering patients. The soft-spoken arrogance and vanity of this administration is sometimes stunning.
Dr. Emanuel thinks health care must be distributed according to the group to which an individual belongs. Valued groups include young and healthy persons, and favored racial and gender groups. Those of less value, of course, are those with medical problems and the elderly.
According to Emanuel's "Complete Life" plan, society's scarce resources should be spent mostly on those under 40 years of age. Old folks get what's left over as determined by him and his ilk. How they will make their decisions is not at all clear.
With the help of several websites devoted to the achievements of older people, (museumofconceptualart.com; wilsonsalmanac.com) I have aggregated a number of individuals who are noteworthy and whose very lives are challenges to the kind of collectivist thinking that characterizes Obama's administration.
First of all there are those individuals who achieved something outstanding long after they had passed their Medicare age:
Benjamin Franklin -- At the age of 70 he helped to draft and signed the Declaration of Independence. For the next 14 years, until his death in 1790, he at one time or another served as the Ambassador to France, negotiated a peace treaty with England, had a romantic affair with a Mme Brillon, invented bifocals, signed the U.S. Constitution, and became the president of the Society for promoting the abolition of Slavery.
Casey Stengel -- Stengel's genius contributed to that great run of 10 Yankee pennants in 12 years from 1949-1960. After losing to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1960 World Series Stengel was involuntarily retired from the Yankees, because he was believed to be too old to manage. Stengel's view was that he had been fired for turning 70, and that he would "never make that mistake again." Stengel was talked out of retirement after one season to manage the New York Mets, which he did for four more years. And though they ended up last in their league those years Stengel never stopped adding to the poetry and lore of baseball, "Can't anybody play this here game?"
Ronald Reagan -- Ran for and was elected President of the United States at the age of 69 and again at 73.
Arthur Rubenstein -- One of the greatest pianists of the twentieth century played his last concert at the age of 89, only after his sight began to fail. And even then he continued to teach master classes until shortly before his death at age 95.
Grandma Moses -- A renowned American folk artist who began painting in her seventies after abandoning a career in embroidery because of arthritis. Instead of allowing herself to be pushed into the nearest bone yard, as Dr. Emanuel would have prescribed, she began her new career. She lived to be more than 100 and in those thirty years produced 3600 canvases. A work she painted in 1943, "Sugaring Off," was sold for $1.2 million in 2006.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. -- Became a member of the Supreme Court at the age of sixty and continued being one of America's most influential jurists for another thirty years, long after Ezekiel Emanuel would have judged him worthless.
Jessica Tandy -- Won the Academy Award for best actress in 1989 at the age of 80, for her role in "Driving Miss Daisy."
George Burns -- One of the most gifted comedy actors in the American theatre won an Oscar for his role in the "Sunshine Boys" at the age of 80 and continued performing and writing for the next 20 years.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. -- A physician and poet who remained active in both professions until he died at the age of 85.
Barbara McClintock -- An American Geneticist who was awarded the Nobel Prize for physiology at the age of 81. Continuing her scientific work, some believe that if she had lived a little past her 90 year she might have won a second Nobel Prize.
Alberta Hunter -- An American blues singer, songwriter and nurse. Her career had started back in the early 1920s, and continued from there on into the fifties when she became a nurse. She was prepared to devote the rest of her life to nursing, but the hospital retired her in 1977. Bored by inactivity, Hunter decided to resume her singing career, because she "never felt better." A limited engagement turned into an open-ended one and she became a success all over again. The comeback lasted six years, during which Hunter toured in Europe and South America, made television appearances, and enjoyed her renewed recording career. She continued to perform until shortly before her death in 1984.
There is an almost endless list of gifted people who remained creative and vital well into their senior life. Here is only the briefest of lists: Tolstoy, Churchill, W. Somerset Maugham, Coco Chanel, Nobelist Francis Rous, Albert Schweitzer, Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, G.B. Shaw, and P.G. Wodehouse.
But it would a shame to leave out some ordinary people who achieved remarkable things at a very ripe old age, such as:
Katsusuke Yanagisawa, 71, a retired Japanese schoolteacher, became the oldest person to climb Mt. Everest.
Retired mining engineer Ed Whitlock became the first man over 70 to run a standard marathon in under 3 hours.
Venus Ramey, aged 82, balanced on her walker and fired her handgun to shoot out an intruder's tires. Ramey, who had been winner of the 1944 Miss America pageant, confronted the man on her Kentucky farm and disabled his vehicle so he couldn't escape.
Allan Stewart of New South Wales completed a Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of New England at the age of 91. He said he finished what would have normally been a six-year degree in four and a half years "because of my age."
What Obama and Emanual cannot easily understand because they were raised and educated in identity or communitarian politics is that people don't dream collective dreams. People are individuals, with unique experience, genetic makeup, and destinies. One size does not fit all. They can only think in group or racial terms-whites, blacks, old people, young people, sick people, well people. Most people are mixed people with complex traits and ambitions.
What those "worthless" old people bring to life is one of the most precious contributions there is-hope.
Yale Kramer is a retired psychiatrist and the author of Talking Back to Liberal Power.