50 Is Nifty

Good morning, it’s August 4, 2017. Today is Barack Obama’s birthday. The former president came into the world, as the local newspaper noted, at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children, Honolulu, Hawaii, on this date in 1961.

Those details are probably better known than those surrounding most presidential births, at least in part because of the dubious efforts of our current president — who catapulted himself into American political life by questioning President Obama’s place of birth.

So, Barack Hussein Obama is 56 years old. Doesn’t it seem like yesterday that he was this fresh-faced state senator from Illinois delivering the keynote address for John Kerry at the Democrats’ nominating convention in Boston?

Fifty years ago, August 4 was also a Friday, and on that day, a baby named Michael Lawrence Marsh was born in Los Angeles. As he grew up, you had to pay attention when he was around. If you even blinked, you’d miss him: The youngster was in the process of becoming one of the fastest human beings on the planet.

Mike Marsh ran track at Hawthorne High School in Southern California, the alma mater of four of the five Beach Boys. He wasn’t even the fastest kid at Hawthorne then — that distinction belonged to a fellow sprinter named Henry Thomas — but Mike was part of a quartet that set a high school record at the Texas Relays in 1985. Marsh won the California schoolboy 200-meter sprint that year, went on to UCLA and became an Olympian in 1992.

On that U.S. team (along with nearly everyone else in Barcelona), he was overshadowed by the great Carl Lewis, then in the twilight of his career. But when the Games were over, Marsh had won an individual gold medal, and a team gold in the 4-by-100-meter relay anchored by Lewis. Handsome, baby-faced Mike Marsh will always be remembered as one of “the Fantastic Four.” And today he’s 50 years old.

“At 50,” George Orwell wrote in his notebook on April 17, 1949, “everyone has the face he deserves.”

Orwell never found out if this pithy observation applied to himself: He died at age 46. But he left us with so many wise words, and some puckish ones as well.

“If you don’t begin to be a revolutionist at the age of 20,” Orwell declared in a 1933 speech at the University of Hong Kong, “then at 50 you will be a most impossible old fossil.”

A more contemporary philosopher, Washington Post columnist Carolyn Hax, put it another way earlier this year. “I thought the best part about turning 50,” she wrote in advice equally applicable to presidents and peons, “was outliving your interest in playing games.”

Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics

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