“No one reached out to me and said, ‘As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that America loves for its children and grandchildren?’ And if that is the exchange, I’m all in.” Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick
What a time to be a senior citizen. On March 23, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who was a few days away from his 70th birthday, made the above statement to Tucker Carlson on Fox, saying, in effect, that he was willing to risk his life and support opening up the economy so that young people could go back to work, even if that meant seniors, most at risk with the coronavirus, might die. (Keep in mind that Patrick is a member of the party that claims to be “pro-life.”) Patrick’s statement prompted a response from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo: “My mother is not expendable. Your mother is not expendable. We will not put a dollar figure on human life. We can have a public health strategy that is consistent with an economic one. No one should be talking about social darwinism for the sake of the stock market.”
What a difference a few months make! With the battle between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden heating up, there’s a renewed focus on senior citizens, those who are 65 and older. That group now makes up one-quarter of the nation’s voting bloc, the largest share since 1970, not only because of the Baby Boom generation getting older, but because that cohort is living longer. Younger people, those prized by advertisers, also make up an important part of the electorate, but guess what? Older voters are more dependable voters. We tend to turn out for elections in greater numbers. So if you want a group of voters in your corner, appealing to senior citizens is a good strategy. Now, no one wants us to die. They want us to live and vote!
Yet there’s a problem with an approach that tends to lump seniors together as if we all agree on major issues. Here is what Sara Fagen, a Republican strategist, said on the June 28 This Week with George Stephanopoulos on ABC: “Seniors may be unhappy with Donald Trump at the moment, but they don’t want a Green New Deal. They don’t want Medicare for all. They don’t want free college tuition for everybody.” Fagen’s attitude – and she’s not alone – seems to be that because seniors are in the twilight of their years, with fewer decades ahead of us than behind us, we are not inclined to vote for proposals that will have long term gains for society but might cost us in the short term.
I can’t speak for all seniors. No one should be confident enough to do that, despite the many polls that are taken. But when I read projections about how seniors are expected to vote, I feel my voice isn’t being heard. I worry about climate change and I worry about what this means for my children and their children. I want a Green New Deal for them. I also want health care for all and with the rising cost of education, I’m on board with doing something about the high cost of college tuition.
It’s surprising that at a time when technology is able to parse people into groups based on many factors – residence, ethnic background, religion, what car they own, how many kids they have, where they shop, eat, and work – that where voting is concerned, we still place people in blocs based on their age. Seniors are as multi-faceted as any other age group. To campaign for votes based on a one-size-fits-all strategy will fail. Seniors want and deserve to be treated as individuals. Any candidate who wants our vote this November should remember that.
Top photo: Bigstock