Folks in high office keep getting
younger — in more ways than one
By BRAD WARTHEN
Editorial Page Editor
I’M NOT USUALLY inclined to help partisans and ideologues, but the Democrats and “liberal groups” who yearn to stop President Bush’s choice for the Supreme Court obviously aren’t trying very hard.
John Glover Roberts Jr. is flawed in a way that is so obvious, so irrefutable, that the seven Democrats in the “Gang of 14” should have no trouble citing this failing as an “extraordinary circumstance” that frees them from their promise not to filibuster:
He’s too young.
I don’t mean “too young in that he would be in a position to steer the court in a conservative direction for a generation.” Mr. Bush’s political opponents would mean it that way, but I don’t care about any of that “liberal vs. conservative” mumbo-jumbo. I mean he’s just plain too young. This is not opinion. It is based upon an indisputably objective standard, to wit:
At 50, he is the first person nominated to the Supreme Court in my lifetime who is younger than I am.
Obviously, this is an intolerable situation, and those inclined toward intolerance of all things Bush should seize it with both hands (especially since I doubt they’ll find any other good excuses to oppose him).
Now, let me help out the Republicans and “conservative groups” that are going to support this mere pup no matter what their opponents say, do or dig up:
I’m being facetious.
I spell that out — obvious as it may be to you, dear reader — because the ideologues of the right are as utterly lacking in a sense of irony as their counterparts on the left. And I get enough sputtering e-mail as things stand.
I will now confuse everyone by not only getting serious, but changing the subject entirely.
My purpose is not to pass judgment on that callow youth the president introduced Tuesday night (note to “conservatives” —being facetious again there).
The thing is, my own shock at his youth reminds me of an earlier experience, one that has more substantial implications right here at home in South Carolina.
In 1994, my first year on this newspaper’s editorial board, we interviewed David Beasley, who was seeking our endorsement (which he didn’t get) for governor.
At one point, the late Bill Rone asked the candidate of the Christian Right about his reputed past as a Good-Time Charlie.
Mr. Beasley looked at him with an expression of sincere, chastened, candid innocence and said, “Yessir, I’ve had good times….” I have never before or since seen anyone seeking public office look quite so much like a once-wayward cherub who was humbly grateful to be back in the heavenly fold. It was not the sort of thing that your everyday man of the world can carry off.
So as the meeting was breaking up I had to ask: How old are you, anyway? He told me, I nodded, and said wonderingly, “You’re the first gubernatorial candidate I’ve ever interviewed who was younger than I am.”
I didn’t attach all that much importance to it at the time. Yes, I did detect a certain “What, me worry?” callowness in the candidate, a lack of gravitas that always made it hard for me to take him as seriously as one would like to take a governor of one’s state. But my main thought was that I was getting older, and I might as well get used to this sort of thing.
And boy, was I right.
Every governor we’ve had since that day has been younger than I. Jim Hodges didn’t look like it, but it’s true.
Mr. Hodges, who had been a competent and even admirable legislator, regressed somehow from the moment he began to seek the state’s highest office. He allowed himself to be led by the nose by a self-deluding, 34-year-old political consultant whose awful advice helped him become, like Mr. Beasley, a one-termer.
Mark Sanford seems a little older than his two immediate predecessors. He seems more like, say, a graduate student. But his ideas, and his ability to translate them into policy, seem stuck in that stage of development. However good some of them are (and however bad others are), they seem unable to find their way out of the seminar.
It’s not really a matter of age. Mr. Sanford was five years older than Fritz Hollings was when he became governor, and Mr. Hollings accomplished a lot.
My concern has more to do with certain attributes we tend to associate with age, and which have been lacking in South Carolina. Our last few governors haven’t been terribly accomplished, either at the time of their election or at the time of their departure.
Mr. Sanford has yet to depart, but he hasn’t broken the string yet, and his resume in 2002 — six years in Congress with a singular lack of achievements — is consistent with the trend. (Mr. Hodges had more to show when he ran, but you wouldn’t have known it watching him as governor.)
Not just to pick on these three, the same can be said of almost everyone who’s sought the office during this time — Joe Riley, who failed to be nominated in 1994, being the noteworthy exception.
And South Carolina needs more than that. It needs someone who can get things done, because we’ve got a lot that needs doing. Yet the kinds of accomplished men and women who might be able to lead us where we need to go just don’t seek public office. Perhaps it’s that their dignity won’t allow them to run that often degrading gantlet. Perhaps it’s something else.
But whatever it is, it continues to hold our state back.
Folks in high office keep getting