Friday, February 13, 2009

The trials of Sam-Unwise

I met Portland mayor Sam Adams when he was 18. At least he looked 18. I am fairly sure that it was the same Sam Adams, but the room was kind of dim. He was kind of cute, maybe I should have asked him out. I was about 30 when we met. Let’s see, 30 minus 18 is a 12-year age difference. Is that, well, proper?

Let’s look around in society for examples from respected leaders. Senator and envoy George Mitchell was 60 and wife Heather was 35 when they met, so that’s a 25-year gap, pretty impressive. William O. Douglas was sixty-six when he met twenty-two year old Cathy at a Portland bar. She became Mrs. Justice Douglas, a 44-year difference. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich started out a little differently by marrying his barely-former high school teacher when he was 19 and she was 26—a bold step but only a seven-year difference. He’s on a different wife now and the gap is more traditional, if you will: she’s 23 years younger.

So we can dispense with Sam’s preference for younger partners. It is traditional, almost Republican, you could say, if you throw in Henry Kissinger’s younger wife and any number of others that we could unearth. Reviving that issue is simply political necrophilia.

So that leaves Sam-Unwise with the problem of the Age of Consent, a concept under which legislators who remember lust in the abstract but are too old to recollect what it feels like establish cutoff dates for the behavior of those who still have it. As far as I can tell from online sources, most U.S. states set the age at 16, some at 17 and a few, including Oregon, at 18. In other words, states pick an arbitrary age.

Until the Supreme Court acted, the age standard was different in some states for gay couples, as if there were something fundamentally different about the nature of the bond. The age remains different in some states for people who want to marry, as though a person who can’t consent by virtue of immaturity suddenly matures if he wants to marry at 16.

This is the astonishingly murky thicket of baseless laws into which our new Attorney General has been lured in a moment of inattention and from which, if he is as smart as he is supposed to be, he will quickly emerge without doing anything stupid. Sam’s kiss-and-fib is getting to be stale political theater, a fine example of something upon which scarce public funds should not be spent. Start with schools, unemployment, health care, water quality, public safety and potholes.

Oh, the room where I met Sam was the newsroom of the Oregon Daily Emerald at the University of Oregon, where I was working in the mid-1980s. Sam came in to have some political argument with the staff (that’s why I’m pretty sure it is the same guy) and told me that he didn’t like my position on something (got to be the same guy).

I’m nostalgic for what might have been, Sam. It’s true, I’m 52 and fat, and I was briefly a Republican, though I never inhaled. These days I’m a respectable professional, not without charm, and single. Say hello sometime.