Nikki Haley Angers, Distances Voters With Ageist And Ableist Remark

In Nikki Haley’s official campaign announcement, she called for politicians aged 75 and older to be subjected to mental competency tests. Her shameless ageism and ableism have fueled much-needed attention to the subject while distancing older voters.

Ageism is when someone is judged based on how old someone thinks they are. Ableism is when someone is judged based on assumptions of how their mind or body functions. Haley’s comment was both ageist and ableist, and the fire she’s under is well deserved.

This is not the first time Haley has shown how easily she will lean on ageist and ableist concepts if she thinks doing so will win approval.

In 2017 Haley referred to her parents as elderly and incapable of ordering an Uber. Her parents, Ajit Singh Randhawa and Raj Kaur Randhawa, are hardly incompetent. Her father earned a Ph.D. in 1969 and moved the family to South Carolina to become a professor at Voorhees College, a historically black institution. Her mother earned a master’s degree in education and taught for seven years in the public school system. In 1976 she launched a popular clothing boutique, Exotica International, and successfully ran the business for over 30 years.

But that didn’t prevent the newly appointed ambassador to the U.N. from age-shaming her parents in a talk to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City.

“I do take care of my elderly parents, and they are learning how to use Uber, which has been really interesting. So we’ve had to pick them up a couple of times.” [Laughter]

The comment suggested that Haley’s parents were frail and incompetent because of their age. That’s ableist.

Haley’s age-related quips, both then and now, demonstrate cultural acceptance of age-shaming. In her latest stunt, she attempts to weaponize age to undermine President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.

The backlash has been fast and fierce, and voters who once considered Haley a viable GOP candidate are backing off.

GOP Voter Demographics

Older GOP voters may agree with Haley’s call for a new generation of politicians, but many draw the line at requiring age-based testing. When it comes to winning critical votes, alienating older voters will hurt.

Pew Research reports that “voters who are 65 and older make up larger shares in both parties than do voters under age 30. However, the difference is much larger among Republican voters (25% are 65 and older, while 13% are under 30) than among Democrats (23% and 19%, respectively).”

Major polls show Haley trailing in the GOP race. The day after Haley’s announcement, the Quinnipiac University Poll showed Haley receiving only six percent of the support, closely followed by former Vice President Mike Pence with four percent. Former President Donald trump leads with 42 percent, followed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis with 36 percent. Most recently, the Morning Consult showed similar standings.

Silver Lining

According to the late social change activist Bill Moyer, the principal organizer for the 60s Chicago Open House Movement (removing racial restrictions for selling property to Blacks), real change occurs after public opposition.

In his 1987 Movement Action Plan, he explains that success follows a formula. While age activists worldwide have been calling for an end to blatant ageism and ableism across every facet of life, including healthcare and employment, both are still very much accepted. Activists have been creating awareness, which is crucial according to Moyer’s action plan. But real change only occurs with a triggering event.

Haley’s call for mandatory competency testing is the triggering event change makers have been waiting for–and in more ways than one.

In his criticism of Haley, CNN Morning Host Don Lemon said, “Nikki Haley isn’t in her prime, sorry. A woman is considered to be in their prime in their twenties and thirties–and maybe forties.”

The comment prompted pushback from Lemon’s co-host Poppy Harlow, who asked, “What are you talking about? Wait, prime for what? Are you talking about prime for child-bearing, or are you talking about prime for president?”

Lemon’s sexist and ageist comment created a second triggering event, focusing on the fact that gendered ageism implies that women are less relevant after childhood.

Senator Bernie Sanders called Haley’s comment “absurd” and emphasized the need to address ageism the same as other dimensions of diversity during CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

“We are fighting racism, we’re fighting sexism, we’re fighting homophobia–I think we should also be fighting ageism,” he told host Margaret Brennan.

If there is a silver lining to Haley’s outrageous statement, it’s the attention it has amassed to combat ageism.

Yes, it is good to see ageism called out. What is even better is knowing the guilty party is held accountable. For Haley, ultimate accountability is in the hands of voters. But if she prevails, what will stop her from requiring cognitive testing for older voters?