Open Phones: Youth, Middle Age, and Personal Politics

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Churchill and others have said, "If you're not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you're not a conservative at forty you have no brain." How true has this been for you?

Comments [57]

"LIberal" in UK = Libertarian

Given your quote of Churchill, I thought I should
remind you that in the U.K., the word "Liberal"
means what Americans consider to be "Libertarian".

This would change the implications of the quote

Jan. 17 2012 07:46 PM

the guest sugar coats middle age and brian (my hero) played along. what of the sufferings of middle age? most at this point in life have lost loved ones. i personally have lost my sister, my daughter, my father and my brother in law-- all deaths leaving one facing big existential questions not to mention leaving little children without parents. this is supposedly normal by the time you are 50. also, i notice many men are suffering from dashed expectations and looking to be bolstered by wives who don't really need them anymore (biologically). i think there is much reality to face in middle age. your musician caller who feels like a kid--- well so far so good---but when life kicks you in the ass and takes the air out of the balloon, lets see if he still feels so young.

Jan. 17 2012 11:52 AM
charles maraia from NYC

Jan. 17 2012 11:46 AM
Carola from Brooklyn

I'm with Chris who just called - only I'm 61, a few months from 62 -- and I still don't feel middle-aged!

Jan. 17 2012 11:46 AM
Peter from upstate NY

My first sign I might be middle aged? I was given a senior discount without asking for one.
I am 49 with a lot of gray hair, mostly white. Yikes.

Jan. 17 2012 11:43 AM
Njnell from Summit, NJ

When I was 5 months pregnant, at 41, and we were moving to the suburbs. We went to the info desk at the suburban hospital and asked where was the maternity ward. The lady behind the desk peered over at us and said, helpfully, "grandparents?"

Jan. 17 2012 11:41 AM
mary from NYC

I'm 60 years old - female - and decided to go back to school for a Masters Degree - Yes I do feel middle age - but I feel good about it!

Jan. 17 2012 11:39 AM
Peter from Brooklyn

I am 55 and just began to feel middle aged in the last year as my appearance subtly shifted from confusing age to more serious amounts of gray hair and wrinkles. As soon as I realized I wasn't of confusing age and accepted my middle age, I started enjoying that notion that all those young people around me are not my peers but my students, young friends, nearer to my son's age, etc. It was very liberating

Jan. 17 2012 11:39 AM
becky g from Manhattan

Benjamin Disraeli is often cited as the source of that quote, so Churchill was likely paraphrasing him.

Working as a social worker in New York City is what changed my political bent, not my age.

The abuse of social programs by such a wide swath of the population has convinced me that the government social policies are misguided, and truly do create a dependent underclass. I used to think that was heartless claptrap, but now know from experience that the best thing that has happened to some of my clients is losing their benefits. Suddenly, they were forced to learn to work, save, and plan for the future. With this, came a sense of empowerment and self-esteem, and these clients literally go on to have much more happy, fulfilling, and SECURE lives than others.

The corruption is another issue. Clients who haven't worked in their entire adult lives come in with boob jobs and other cosmetic surgery - when I ask how they could afford plastic surgery, I was told, "Oh, the doctor wrote down a different code, so medicare would pay for it." Other clients have lied about symptoms (and admitted this to me) in order to be classified as having a major mental illness, which would qualify them for disability benefits. Other clients freely admit to selling their food stamps to neighbors or friends(issued on an ID card now, esp. to address that issue) for cash to buy drugs. The food stamp recipient does the shopping - say they buy $100 worth of groceries - and gets reimbursed in cash, usually at 50% so they get 50 bucks, which they use to buy drugs. The neighbor, who makes too much in income to qualify for food stamps, is guilty of ripping off the system, too. In NYC, another common scam involves the NYCHA (housing authority) - i.e. having an apartment in a project - lying about how many children you have to get a bigger apartment, then subletting room, or moving out and renting the entire apartment for a profit. Mitchell-Lama housing scams are rampant among my clientele, too.

I could go on and on, but many other LMSWs I worked with saw the same thing. Sadly, b/c our jobs are dependent on the same government largesse that makes cheating the system so easy, many of my colleagues will vote for any democratic candidate to preserve the funding and therefore their jobs, even if instead of helping their clients, this ultimately hurts them.

Private charities are likely capable of taking over the care and support of the poor in the United States and I've come to believe it would be for the best of the clients.

Jan. 17 2012 11:38 AM
Carola from Brooklyn

I'm with Chris who just called - only I'm 61, a few months from 62 -- and I still don't feel middle-aged!

Jan. 17 2012 11:38 AM

When, after dropping something, my thoughts changed from "Damn, I dropped it" to "Damn, I have to bend over."

Jan. 17 2012 11:38 AM
John from Fanwood NJ

I'll be 65 in April so I'm a little past middle age. However in October I bought a red 1986 Nissan 300ZX. I know everyone who sees me must say "hey look at that middle age guy trying to be young."

Jan. 17 2012 11:36 AM
Middle Aged and Middle of the Road from Westchester

I am sorry to say that I am much more self-involved than I was in my youth. As the child of lefties, one who attended anti-war and other demonstrations as a young kid, I grew up feeling that the most important thing in life was to create a just world. I realize that some of my views were knee-jerk and not necessarily scientific, but still, in matters of the heart, I am no longer as giving and caring as I once was. I love the saying "from those to whom so much is given, much is expected," yet I can't say that I live by it. I am not suggesting that I should have been occupying Wall Street, as that movement seemed incredibly naive and amorphous, but even though I can't figure out how to make the world a better place, it would be nice if I gave more to others, if I extended myself more.

Jan. 17 2012 11:35 AM
Kathleen from Manhattan

Since you're talking about age s a shaper of political viewpoint, I wonder if you've noticed, as I have, the utter absence this year of what used to be a staple of political discussion in election years: the importance of the senior citizen vote. There almost seems to be a "media blackout" on the views of those of us who are over 60. Is it because there's an assumption that seniors are universally against changes in Social Security, and neither political party wants to deal with that, since both of them are planning to stick it to us in one way or another?

Jan. 17 2012 11:32 AM
The Truth from Becky

Absolutely, my politics did change, in my 30's - had nothing to do with the calendar.

Jan. 17 2012 11:31 AM
dboy from nyc

The first time I voted I regrettably voted as my family did; for Ronald Reagan.

I moved away form home. went to school, read and developed a critical mind of my own and realized my family was ignorant and INSANE!!

That was the first and last time a had anything to do with anything described as "conservative"!

Forgive me my voting transgressions!!

Jan. 17 2012 11:30 AM
Sarah from District of Columbia

As a 36 year old who grew up in a peace and freedom voting family, I find that I am veering to
the right on certain issues. I still believe in protecting the envirnoment and our public education system, however I am appalled at the misuse of social services. I have personally encountered people who are defrauding SSI, Food Stamps and welfare programs. It is a way of life in their family and community. It makes me wonder what the percentage is of people who are fairly applying for these programs is. I feel guilty about my feelings about this, but I want to vote Republican to keep people who are abusing the system from doing what they are doing!

Jan. 17 2012 11:28 AM

There seems to be an enormous misunderstanding about the word "conservative." To be clear, the current Republican party is NOT conservative. It is a big-government organization, promoting the military rather than welfare programs. The only actual conservative group is the Libertarian party, which is extremely anti-war, and very progressive regarding social issues, unlike the Republican party.


Jan. 17 2012 11:25 AM
DMV from NYC

What a depressing segment. It's sad to hear the myopia that shapes an individual's political choices.

Jan. 17 2012 11:25 AM
Leah from South Harlem

In my mid-50s and child-free, what is most important to "conserve"?

For me, what's important to conserve is our always-threatened commons and also the land, air, water and biodiversity at large -- both public and private, since abuse of private land and water threatens the public, as the fracking controversy now demonstrates.

IN SUMMARY: "conserving" the commons means fighting "conservativism". With age, I'm growing BOTH more conservative AND more radical.

Jan. 17 2012 11:23 AM

I was so hoping Brian that you would have asked James how he felt about all the Banksters who nearly ruined our economy with their criminality. He's very concerned that any reporting on prison ills be balanced with stories of how bad the prisoners (all?) are, but does he feel the same way about Jamie Dimon???

Gotta confess I am so much more to the left than I was a young liberal anti-war protester in the 60's and 70's. I know so much more now, and have seen so many of my Democratic leaders reveal themselves to be Corporatists and concerned more about the wealthy than the "rest of us 99%ers."

Jan. 17 2012 11:23 AM
Len from Jackson Heights

I've actually gone the opposite route.
I don't think I would have been viewed as a conservative when I was 20 in the early 1970s, but on many issues I was. I didn't fully understood the difficulties the poor, non-whites, and gays faced. Yes, I knew there was discrimination, but I didn't fathom its depth and pervasiveness. I changed as I met good people who were simply trying to make there own way and didn't need the obstacles that were put in their way. I'd like to think I'm a realistic liberal.

Jan. 17 2012 11:23 AM
dboy from nyc

I'm over 40 and get farther left each day Lloyd Blankfein® is not in jail.

Jan. 17 2012 11:23 AM
Joe from New Jersey

I'm 60. I may be an anomaly, but I was just to the right of the Weathermen in college, then was captured by Reagan-thought, but have since gradually drifted back to the left. Now I truly wish Obama would take a baseball bat to the Republicans and am very much behind Occupy Wall Street.

I think what makes most people drift right is acquisition of things/wealth/property and getting involved so much in that process that they lose the perspective they had when they weren't yet there.

With me, a lot of what took me right in my late 20's and 30's was disgust with and distrust of government that grew out of how it operated in Vietnam. I figured, with that kind of government, the best thing to do was to starve it. So I agreed with Reagan but perhaps for different reasons than many who did. However I was also flush with having money for the first time and being involved in business which in college was anathema to me.

Jan. 17 2012 11:22 AM

25 here - IMO its easy to appoint a liberal that stands up for nothing in particular , while a conservative who is pissed off about something concrete relates to everyday life.

Jan. 17 2012 11:22 AM
John A.

The Best difference to report is a difference in knowledge. Concepts such as Lords/Commons, Management/Labor, Republican/Democrat, Regulation/"Free" all mean more and can be discussed with some effect. Thank-You Brian, Leonard, Jim Lehrer, Bill Moyers*, "Frontline".
*He's now back on PBS (fri PM), Sorry but I Have to blab this. It's good News.

Jan. 17 2012 11:22 AM

I've gone from liberal to skeptic. Though still a liberal skeptic.

Jan. 17 2012 11:22 AM
Robert from NYC

But that's the problem, it's not that the government takes from the rich to give to the poor and that that should become the lifestyle, not become the lifestyle, Social programs should be a crutch to use until you can get back on your own feet. They're there to use until you can again do for yourself, they should help you get back on your own feet. To see these programs as permanent "lifestyle" institutions is wrong. Of course there are the permanently ill and indigent who need help but they aren't the majority and as a caring society we should be there with institutional programs to support them.

Jan. 17 2012 11:21 AM
Henry from Katonah

Context :
Churchill at age forty lived in a U.K. where the left was split between Labour (socialists) and the Liberals led by Lloyd George, Churchill's former collegue in the WWI era cabinet.
The Torys throughout the 1930s did not particularly like Churchill. If not for WWII Churchill would never had led the Conservatives.

Jan. 17 2012 11:21 AM
dboy from nyc


There is something between a kibbutz and a Milton Friedman free-for-all.

And, it's not anti-democracy or anti-capitalism.

Jan. 17 2012 11:19 AM
BrianK from Hell's Kitchen

I voted for George HW Bush when I was 20 and have been moving left ever since. I am now a 43 year old business owner and find Republicans to be insane. Conservatives have been wrong on almost every major issue in our history, from slavery and civil rights to trickle-down economics to gay marriage. I am pro-business and pro-capitalism but I don't see why that should make me greedy and selfish. Anyone who is not liberal, at any age, shows a lack of both heart and head.

Jan. 17 2012 11:18 AM
Alexander Shapiro from Brooklyn

As far as my evolution goes, Churchill had it wrong.

When I was young, with my whole life ahead of me, when anything was possible, I was a strong believer in personal responsibility, and the idea that if you work hard, you will succeed.

Now, that I have had some experience in life, I understand that events happen beyond our control, and society should take a greater role in caring for it's citizens.

I have more of a heart now that I'm older.

Jan. 17 2012 11:16 AM
Bob from Caldwell

If you were a monarchist in France in 1792 you had no head

Jan. 17 2012 11:16 AM
fuva from Harlemworld

Perhaps one gets more Conservative as one gets older out of fatigue and not virtue.
Because it takes much more energy to understand and fight against debilitating socioeconomic and psychosocial forces than to retreat into your own little world and base instincts and be concerned with only protecting your own little bubble in a vacuum.

Jan. 17 2012 11:15 AM
Janet from NJ

BRIAN, I AM SO SURPRISED AT YOU!. OWS is not "a young peoples movement"! There is such a cross- section of ages, races and backgrounds that I've met at OWS. What of the Raging Grannies, or Granny Peace Brigade, or the seniors arrested so harshly in Chicago,(and many more). I belong to Occupy Morristown, which meets on the Green Friday evenings in support of OWS. 3 generations of my family were present last week.

Jan. 17 2012 11:15 AM
judith ackerman from Upper west side

I've always been progressive, but when I was younger I was a Zionist. I started the Women's Movement in Tel Aviv, and pioneered many dance therapy programs over there. Now I've become so angry with Israel's racist policies that I am on boycott, stand with the Women in Black every Thursday on Union Square, and am in conflict with my Israeli relatives and friend.
My other values of 1960 remain the same, and I am a Raging Granny and a member of the Coalition to free Mumia Abu Jamal and all Political Prisoners.

Jan. 17 2012 11:15 AM
LynxSL from Brooklyn

About ten years younger than the first caller. But same trajectory. Moderate conservative/Republican through personal experience to flaming leftwing Liberal!!!.

Jan. 17 2012 11:14 AM
Murf from Prospect Heights

I have gone a little to the right since my youth, mainly to be more of a realist than a utopian. But I'm still a liberal.
So I would modify the quote to read:
In your 20's you are a liberal because of your heart. In your 50's you are a conservative because you know you are going to hell anyway, so why not?


Jan. 17 2012 11:14 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Americans have known no suffering, and suddenly dumped into a situation of subsistence, which is actually the NORM in history, suddenly become left wing radicals because life suddenly got tought,and the ground shifted under them. Well, let them have a few years in Cuba or North Korea or for that matter in any highly bureaucratized society, and they will learn through bitter truth that FREEDOM is what America is about, not a guarantee of prosperity forever!

Jan. 17 2012 11:13 AM
Gene from NYC

When I was 23 I spent a year in Memphis, I was there when King was shot.

Spending a year in a land of endemic, virulent racism forever changed me; I became _more_ radical, at seeing people being destroyed not just by an entrenched system, but by racist, stupid, self-righteous _people_ themselves--who must not be given the opportunity to "take this country back" to their vile, hellish world.

Jan. 17 2012 11:12 AM

What do you mean by "conservative" ?

Jan. 17 2012 11:12 AM
Tom from UWS

Glib bunk. Proving that the soundbite didn't begin with radio or TV.

Jan. 17 2012 11:10 AM
telegram sam from Staten Island

My dad quoted me this when I was around 20 and starting to have political arguments with him. Now I'm 40 and it's only partially true.

In some ways I've become more liberal, in that I've become more compassionate. You have to have lived a bit to be fully aware how easy it is to fall through the cracks, and how hard it is to drag yourself back up, and so I now have more direct empathy for poor people. The fraying of the safety net scares me, for myself and for my fellow citizens.

On the other hand, I have become more conservative in that I've seen how inhuman and inefficient government bureaucracy can be first-hand (even with good intentions), and I'm thus more skeptical that more government involvement is necessarily the answer. I'd almost say growing older makes you more Libertarian. That's been the case with most people I know.

(I'm not looking to start a political argument here, so don't bother. Just answering the question at hand.)

Jan. 17 2012 11:09 AM

I think it's actually "if you're not a conservative at forty you have no MONEY."

Jan. 17 2012 11:08 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Extremely true for me personally. As a Jewish kid growing up in the housing projects in the 1950s I was definitely a young Red. I could have been in the Komsomol.
What cured me of socialism forever was one year on a kibbutz in Israel in the early 1970s, and 9 years of living in Israel in the 1980s. Those experiences showed me the evil of left wing bureaucracy and left wing social workers. And also a few incidental abortions in my younger years also proved to me the error of the so-called "right of women to choose" nonsense. Today I am a moderate conservative. The "right to choose" is the right to kill the unborn is demographically decimating society as well as being morally repugnant.

Jan. 17 2012 11:08 AM
JT from LI

I've gone the opposite direction. I'm 42 now and don't understand how so many people consider themselves conservative, especially given the direction the right has gone over the past decade.

Jan. 17 2012 11:08 AM
Stanley Dorn from Village

I heard it as "If you're under 30 and you're not a socialist, you don't have a heart. If you're over 30 and you're still a socialist, you don't have a brain".

My version: "If you're ....heart. If you're over 30 and you're not a socialist, you STILL don't have a heart".

Jan. 17 2012 11:07 AM
Edward from Manhattan

I've gone the other way. Strongly conservative in my 20s because I believed free markets would cure all. Now in my 40s and a father of 3, I've realized that free markets have no impact or interest in solving social issues, fixing a failing infrastructure failure or policing the growing frauds committed by the business community on unsuspecting citizens.

Both parties are failing miserably, but the country is to blame for becoming so divisive.

Jan. 17 2012 11:07 AM

I consider liberalism -- insofar as it relates to bringing poor, troubled public school systems "up" by spiking them with kids and families who normally choose to pull out of the system by choosing private school or a different neighborhood -- to be a US version of the Peace Corps. You are fully committed to doing it, and it's interesting and feels great, but at a certain point most people realize that it is not the sort of thing you want to do too long.

Liberalism, from my experience, is choosing to help the poor and underprivileged at the expense of the relatively well off.

Jan. 17 2012 11:06 AM
bernie from bklyn

if there were actual left and right parties in this country then this quote would be the seed of a fun discussion but those political beliefs do not exist in our representatives. that may be the "role" they're playing but they're all bound by the power of money out of necessity. the need for campaign finances has them all on the take and incentivized to help the greedy mongrels that control every one of our lives via legislation meant to benefit those same mongrels.
so if you're 20 or 60, you are screwed by both parties, unless you're one of the mongrels, that is....

Jan. 17 2012 11:06 AM
Robert from NYC

Interesting, I had heard that quote before attributed to Churchill. I, on the other hand, am the reverse; I was so conservative as a 20 year old that I would make Newt Gingrich look like Ted Kennedy. Now, at 65, I am so liberal (that's right liberal not progressive!) that I would make Ted Kennedy look like Newt Gingrich, So there!
I hate me as a young man.

Jan. 17 2012 11:06 AM
John from Inwood

I was a Rush Limbaugh devotee at 20. Two decades later my politics are somewhat to the left of Keith Olbermann. Thing is, my conservatism was grounded in pure emotion (i.e. "heart"), while my current leftist perspective is based on 41 years of life experience (i.e. "head"). Go figure.

Jan. 17 2012 11:02 AM
Jack Jackson from Central New Jersey

Interesting that this quote has many lives but let's not gig Brian for misattribution - does Brian even write these teasers? - and not go all the way back to the original...

Not to be a republican at twenty is proof of want of heart;
to be one at thirty is proof of want of head.
-Francois Guisot (1787-1874)

I'm 55 and still a liberal...I am very socially progressive - If it doesn't substantially harm me, I see very little reason why I should care what you do...but we can harm each other in some very subtle ways.

I believe in regulated capitalism.

I am for a woman's right to choose.

I support equality of opportunity but not equality of outcome.

I believe that ALL elections should be publicly financed. Politicians are raiding the Treasury to support their donors.

I believe that payroll taxes should apply to 5X the median income. SBO's should have the option of private control of their payroll taxes after 3X.

I would give up all tax credits and deductions - putting CPA's, tax attorney's and lobbyists out of work - in exchange for lower rates across the board.

I think the American military spending is too large. When all you have is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail.

I support steeply progressive income tax rates. 70, 80 or 90% on incomes over $5M is fine by me.

I believe that illegal immigration, NAFTA and MFN for China and anti-unionism are just attempts by the GOP to lower wages for average wage earner. People are beginning to wake up to the lies.

Jan. 17 2012 11:00 AM
Chris from Bowling Green, Ohio

As a 26 year old who is being told by conservative politicians that my generation will not have the safety nets of Social Security or Medicare in their current form because we need to make "sacrifices," I would say that if I'm voting for conservatives at 40, then I certainly have no brain.

Jan. 17 2012 10:59 AM
John A.

I've heard the quote before. Brian didn't make it up.
I've voted freely since 18, not a lock on either party.
Republicans have earned a large negative score, mainly for 2001-present, that won't be forgiven overnight. It's not just them. There's Clinton for repeal of Glass-Steagall and Obama for unrepentant extrajudicial killings overseas as other negatives. Still the (R) offenses are amazingly greater.

Jan. 17 2012 10:52 AM

this is a plausible trajectory, for people with neither hearts no brains. not to completely disparage old winston,but since when is he the gold standard, for neural-political sanity ?

Jan. 17 2012 10:29 AM
Mike from Manhattan

Brian has misquoted French Premier Georges Clemenceau (1841-1929): "Not to be a socialist at twenty is proof of want of heart; to be one at thirty is proof of want of head." The conflating on socialist and liberal in this misquote is one of those mistakes that show a person's real bias, even if the person writes for the Washington Post or hosts a show on WNYC.

Jan. 17 2012 10:08 AM

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