Shakespeare said something about the seven ages of man.
In Strom Thurmond's first several ages, he was someone I downright loathed. My first recollection of him was as South Carolina's governor, the segregationist who bolted the Democratic Party. In 1948, he ran for president as a third-party candidate and did so badly he failed, fortunately, to cost Harry Truman the election. The nation has been grateful ever since.
After that -- and in due course -- Ol' Strom (he was always old) became the Democratic senator from South Carolina and then the Republican senator from South Carolina. You could say he changed with the times, but what really changed was his constituency. It went from all white and all Democratic to much less white and much less Democratic. Maybe that's why Ol' Strom (he was 42 when he crash-landed his Army glider at Normandy) went from filibustering against civil rights legislation to embracing civil rights legislation. You gotta change with the times, son.
There's not much to admire here--just political pragmatism of the sort that makes it hard to say what Ol' Strom really believes in. But there is something he truly and genuinely believes in and for which, we can now discern, he is willing to risk his very life: work. The man has to work -- or, if you will, have a job. He refuses to retire. This is the Strom I admire. This is the man who, at 98, has finally got me on his side. He will not be moved. He will not go. He will stay in the Senate because the Senate, I sense, is his life. Retirement and death are the same to Strom -- Ol' but not so Ol' that he is willing to cash in his chips. Deal around once again, fellas.
My view of Strom is not the universal view of Strom, I'll grant you that. An argument can be made that he has stayed too long, that his state deserves better, more vigorous representation, and, for that matter, so do we all. (It's our Senate, after all.) What's more -- and duty compels me to add this -- it would be great if the Democrats took control of the Senate. The world and all its green things would be better off.
Still, it is a far, far better thing to win a seat than to get one by default. You would not know that from some of the recent articles on Ol' Strom I have read. There is an undertone of impatience to them, an unstated "be gone with you" message that can be discerned between the lines or, if you are of a certain age, by the odor of ageism wafting from the page.
Make way for another generation, Strom is being told. You are old, aged, ancient, frail, sick, senile, beyond senior, and beyond repair. Go, sir, go!
No, I shout back at the page. Stay, stay! Stay for us all -- all of us whose youth has, well, ripened, who see retirement as death's cozy waiting room (Dr. Reaper will be right with you), who have no hobby except work and whose respite from work is still more work.
We are too old, not worth the cost of a subscription -- demographic detritus. We buy nothing. We are worthless. Be gone, be gone, and make way for some jerk kid who thinks it's cool to say "cool" a lot.
But we do have those Senate seats -- not just Strom's, but all the others over the age of 60. And we have Ol' Strom himself -- undefeated, indefatigable, obstinate, and in all matters political, always, always wrong. But his politics no longer matter to me, only his endurance. It has taken him awhile, but he is my hero.
Stay, Strom, stay.
Richard Cohen is a member of the Washington Post Writers Group. His columns frequently appear in the Flyer.