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'If it's OK with the undertaker, it's OK with me'

Mar 31, 2013 - By Mark Shields

Let me stipulate at the outset: I do not qualify for any youth movement. In fact, I first voted in the 1960 presidential contest between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon. No conscientious bartender, if I were trying to buy a round of alcoholic drinks for the table, would insist upon seeing my driver's license.

But twice this past week, I fairly bristled when two early 20-something salespeople, working for businesses I truly trust, before waiting on me said with a slightly patronizing air, "How's everything going today with you, young man?"

The first was at Strosnider's -- a legendary Washington-area hardware store known for its exceptionally helpful personnel -- and the second was at Southwest Airlines, my all-time favorite carrier.

Reaching across the generational divide to address a customer or patient or anybody else who is obviously of grandparenting age as "young lady" or "young fellow" is just offensive. Would the bosses of employees who do this tolerate their asking a bald man, "How's everything going, Curly?" or greeting a customer with an obvious weight problem with, "Can I help you, Slim?" Tell me, please: Am I just being grumpy when I request that we permanently retire the condescending "young man" and " young lady" from our daily conversations?


Washington today remains a unique place. Just last fall, Wisconsin's Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP vice presidential nominee, and incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama were locked in a no-holds-barred political slugfest. But just two weeks ago, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and the re-elected President Obama met in a very private lunch to discuss federal deficits. That's right, just the two of them -- and their food-tasters.


The private lunch with Paul Ryan was part of the Obama administration's new "Charm Offensive." A few locals are frankly skeptical about this latest White House initiative.

Up to now, the Obama White House had appeared to be following the charm advice of Donald Trump, the annoying Simon Cowell or Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.


With all the turnover in Cabinet and White House personnel to be expected in a second presidential administration, unsubtle ambition has been on unappealing display here in Washington.

The endless maneuvering for appointments and promotions remind me of the story about, perhaps, the most opportunistic job-seeker of the 19th century.

Barely an hour after news of the death of the collector of revenue for the port of Baltimore reached Washington, this relentless self-promoter knocked on the White House door.


e asked President Abraham Lincoln directly, "Can I take his place?" To which Honest Abe replied, "If it's OK with the undertaker, it's OK with me."


A visit to Boston made me recall John McCain's line that after the unsuccessful White House campaigns of favorite sons Barry Goldwater, Mo Udall, Bruce Babbitt and McCain himself, McCain sais "Arizona is the only state where mothers do not tell their children that if they worked hard and did right, they could grow up to be president."

Well, after the failed national campaigns over the last 33 years of Ted Kennedy, Michael Dukakis, John Kerrey and, now, Mitt Romney, it may be time for Massachusetts mothers to do the same.


Editor's note: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields ia a former Marine who appears regularly on "Newshour" on PBS.

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