Via the Ageism blog of the International Longevity Center, I just found out about a study debunking the myth that people grow more conservative with age. In fact, sociologists from the University of Vermont and Penn State found that the opinions of Americans veer increasingly leftward.
The scientists warn politicians and pundits to steer clear of predicting the behavior of candidates or voters when it comes to the upcoming election. But I’m more interested in what gave rise to the stereotype in the first place. I’d bought into it myself, framing it as a class issue. I figured that the elderly were more conservative because maintaining the status quo was the best way to protect the property they’d accumulated. Having amply partaken of the “American Dream,” those who felt financially secure would identify more strongly with it.
Chatting with Helen Gressett in her powder-blue living room before turning on the tape recorder, I was thoroughly startled to hear her declare, “I think the United States is turning into a fascist country.” At 93 she’s still active with the Santa Fe Rape Crisis Center, which should have been a clue, and I went on to find out that Gressett’s been involved in social justice issues her whole life. Why had I expected her politics to be as conventional as her decor?
The way a society treats its old old is very much a social justice issue, bringing to mind the aphorism (attributed to Gandhi and quite a few others): “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” To a large extent, free-market America leaves the very young and very old to fend for themselves. It’s the disenfranchised who turn to radicalism. Hmmm . . . maybe it’s starting to make more sense. As the dollar staggers, the war in Iraq grinds on, and what’s left of the American Dream goes the way of the glaciers, what political shifts might be coming down the pike?