The next presidential election is 21 months away, and the first primaries and caucuses will not be held until about a year from now. The first of what is expected to be many announcements from potential candidates are starting. Former U.N. Ambassador and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley has entered the fray.
In her kickoff speech in Charleston, South Carolina, she made some interesting proposals that sounded like they could be potentially illegal, or at least facially discriminatory.
I think just about every person carries biases about others based on any of the varied traits and characteristics that each unique human being has. I think the bias rarely arises from malice, but lack of malice is not sufficient to inoculate one from the effects of biases.
That is why we have laws in place — to ensure that even when biases emerge and guide decision-making, the decision maker can be called to account even in the absence of malice.
The laws are meant to keep us honest. And they are designed to cause each of us to live by the same anti-bias standards that we strive for as a society. Most of us agree that making decisions on the basis of some protected characteristic of another can be harmful to ourselves, the other person, and society at large. That is because we are not judging the other person on his or her own merits and characteristics, but rather on our generalized ideas about those who look and sound like the other person. That kind of generalized decision-making takes away the humanity of the person being judged, and that is not acceptable in our society. Our laws and our codes say so.
So getting back to Ambassador Haley, who is running for President of the United States of America. She proposed last Wednesday that any person over the age of 75 who wants to run for political office should have to pass a “mandatory mental competency test.”
I am all for mentally-competent government officials. And my enthusiasm for this idea is not age dependent – which is where I differ from the ambassador.
The ambassador’s proposal, which received loud applause and cheers from her audience, calls for discrimination on the basis of age. Her proposal would eliminate folks over the age of 75 from running for office if they failed her proposed “mental competency” test. But incompetent 50-somethings would appear to be fine in her opinion. Which means for the ambassador, age is what matters, not competency.
On its face it is a bad idea.
But it is even worse because, when announced before a cheering audience, it served to normalize age discrimination. It gave credit to the myth that older folks are mentally incompetent and can’t do the job. That may be true for some older folks. It also may be true for younger folks. There is no reason to base a desire for mental competency simply on age.
Unless, of course, you are open to discriminating against folks because of their age. With an aging population that is stronger and healthier than the prior generation, eliminating an entire population from opportunities to serve makes no sense. And it would seem to disqualify one from serving as a credible President.
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