Recently I wrote a piece listing people in public life who should retire and asking readers for their own nominations. The results are in, and your No. 1 pick is … me! Many were moved to name me because they found my piece to be “mean-spirited,” “outrageous and delusional,” “useless drivel,” “unfair,” “hateful,” “rude,” and “ageist.” One reader wanted to know, “Why don’t you just line these old folks up and shoot them?”
I agree there is an age component to my picks—that’s inevitable when you’re talking about retirement. And since we’re talking about retirement, I disagree that saying someone should consider retiring is the equivalent of journalist-assisted suicide. Many people who scale back from day-to-day duties use their retirement as a productive third phase of life. It can be the opportunity to focus on a passionate interest or try something new.
Some readers objected to the mere idea of suggesting anyone ever retire. I acknowledge my column was cheeky. But being able to grapple with when, or if, it’s time to retire will be crucial for our society as the wave of aging boomers washes over it. Two recent articles, one in Slate on senile federal judges, and another in the New York Times on the fact that one-third of active physicians in this country are over 65, illustrate that overstaying one’s welcome can have life-and-death consequences.
There were readers who took me up on my request to make suggestions on how to expand the list. Here are their choices of the public figures who might want to think about spending more time on their private lives.
Al Davis. Davis, 81, is the famously combative owner of the Oakland Raiders, and readers sent recent photos as all the proof needed that Davis should spend his time on shuffleboard, not football. According to Sports Illustrated, his press conferences have become “theater of the absurd.” In 2009 the magazine named him worst owner in the NFL, saying, “[T]he game has passed the Hall of Famer by and he seems to be the only one who doesn’t know it.”
The Rolling Stones. Reader David Thomas wrote of the boys, average age 66, “They have become their own tribute band.” Reader Vince Basehart has seen the Stones in person in recent years, “Though Mick can still run around the stage pretty well, the rest of the Stones look like reanimated corpses. Rod Stewart has made a graceful transition from wild rocker to crooner of old standards. I wish Mick could.”
George Lucas. Reader Sharon Wyly sums up filmmaker Lucas, 66: “Young radical to young Turk to someone who keeps re-releasing the same films, just slightly tweaked. He hasn’t issued a significant film in years and has become more of a joke than the man who revolutionized how films were made. Star Wars 3D, Dear God, stop him now!
Pat Robertson. The founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, following the Haitian earthquake, suggested the cause was not plate tectonics, but the “pact to the devil” he said was sworn by Haiti’s founders. (Robertson, 80, was forced to issue what’s a rather muddy “clarification.”) Each New Year, while many make resolutions, Robertson receives revelations, then reports to viewers what the Lord tells him is in store. This year Robertson had good news—the world’s going to go to hell but “CBN will prosper.” Lord, we beg you, pass on this tidbit: “Pat, time to go away!”
Joe Paterno. The 2010 season was his 61st with Penn State’s Nittany Lions, where Paterno, 84, has been head coach since 1966. His longevity has broken so many football coaching records that the folks at the Guinness World Records should devote a special edition to him. Here’s an amazing fact: Paterno has been with Penn State for more than 50 percent of the games played since the program was founded in the 19th century. Readers were awed and grateful for his contribution and want to see him make a final farewell from the field of his own volition rather than watch him carried off it.
Pat Buchanan. Is Buchanan, 72, an anti-Semite? The Anti-Defamation League says he “publicly espouses racist, anti-Semitic, anti-Israel and anti-immigrant views.” He does spend a lot of time thinking about and counting Jews: He is disturbed by how many there are in Congress (“Capitol Hill is Israeli occupied territory“) and on the Supreme Court. He has written that Hitler was “an individual of great courage” and his 2008 book, Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War, argues it was a mistake for Britain and the United States to go to war against Nazi Germany. MSNBC, please find someone less odious to give a conservative point of view.
John McCain. Readers were fed up with what they saw as the 74-year-old Arizona senator’s pandering to the right in order to win another term. Upon his return to the senate, McCain fought the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”—making part of his legacy a belief that patriotic gay and lesbian service members should have their military careers wrecked. But most of all, people wanted McCain to slip away because of his slip in judgment for foisting into the national spotlight a once-obscure Alaskan governor.
Dustin Hoffman. Reader Bryan Harris observes of the 73-year-old actor: “Hoffman thinks he’s a master thespian who disappears into any role, but every time I see him, I’m always aware that it’s him in a funny costume, ‘acting.’ “
The Comics Page. The newspaper comic’s page resembles nothing so much as a hereditary autocracy. Blondie started in 1930 and was drawn for 43 years by Chic Young, until his death, when his son, Dean, took over. Johnny Hart drew the strip B.C. for almost 50 years before succumbing at his drawing board, and it was taken over by Hart’s daughter and grandsons. Beetle Bailey started in 1950 and is still drawn by 87-year-old Mort Walker. The Family Circus was started in 1960 by Bil Keane, now 88, who still draws it along with his son, Jeff. All this newspaper real-estate cluttered with aging relics frustrates comics fan Jennifer Bertoni, who points out that one widely syndicated strip, Peanuts, by Charles M. Schulz, is drawn by a dead person.