Bill Murchison

The joke's on the jokesters -- the late-night comics punching away at John McCain for the unforgivable offense of having attained his three score and 10. (For kids, that's a reference to a really, really old book called the Bible, and a "score," guys, is 20.)

"Codger jokes," says The New York Times, abound in comic circles: "digs about dementia, pills, prostates and Miracle Ears." To Sonny Boy Letterman, McCain is "a mall-walker," "a Wal-Mart greeter."

And we know why. It's because "gender" jokes (think Hillary Clinton) and racial sallies (think Barack Obama) are strictly off limits. That leaves, you know, geezer gags. A president, or a presidential candidate, can't escape the comic stereotype. Isn't George W. Bush, according to the comedic wisdom, dumb as a post? (Forget the Yale and Harvard degrees.) A president, or a presidential candidate, exists to provide fodder for ridicule. We all know that by now, or we should.

Which is why, as I say, the joke is on those telling it. America is having a big-time senior moment right now. The American people as a whole are aging. Seventy-seven million baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, are headed for retirement or something resembling it. By the year 2030, that means one in five of us.

Meanwhile, Social Security and Medicare, according to trustees of the two systems, have promised $87.9 trillion more in future benefits than they expect to collect in revenues. By 2025, Medicare and Medicaid are expected to commandeer 50 percent of the federal budget. Tax increases or benefit cuts loom, as does unfocused but probably virulent voter indignation.

Shall we pause for a good belly laugh?

The deal here is that even as birth rates are stagnant, life expectancy is soaring. In 1929, a newborn American could expect to reach 59.2 before passing to his reward. A child born in 2001 has a life expectancy of 77.2 years. The leveling off of birth rates (Europe's are dangerously lower than our own) means fewer and fewer workers pay into Social Security and Medicare the payroll taxes that sustain the two programs.

By 2030, says the Concord Coalition, an alliance of political and business figures, "the increase in the aged population will triple that of the working population, and there will be only 2.6 workers for every aged person."

I mean, if that's a not a knee-slapper, what is?

Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
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