Father Time Comes For The Gerontocracy


Time waits for no man and it’s not waiting for our aging members of the Senate and Congress.

The issue of age in American politics is increasingly impossible to overlook. While President Joe Biden is at the center of this discussion, the reality of being too old to govern extends beyond the presidency to encompass a cadre of aging lawmakers.

Increasingly, it appears that these elected officials are figureheads, with their day-to-day responsibilities being managed by their unelected staff, as they clutch tightly to the titles and prestige that come with public office.

Recently, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) experienced another momentary lapse, pausing for an uncomfortably long period when asked about his plans for reelection in 2026. It seemed like an eternity. This episode echoes a similar incident that occurred in July, during which he seemed to lose his ability to respond to a straightforward question from journalists.

In addition to these nonverbal stumbles, McConnell has had a series of other health issues. In 2019, he suffered a fractured shoulder after a fall at his home in Louisville. More alarmingly, in March of this year, he endured a concussion after falling at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Washington, D.C., sidelining him for six weeks and putting his minority leadership in question.

As he approaches his 82nd birthday in February, it raises legitimate questions about McConnell’s ability to perform the duties of his office effectively until the end of his term in 2026.

McConnell’s staff members, rather tellingly, were ready to step in during this latest episode. While their intervention might be seen as dutiful, it also points to a larger concern: Who is truly at the helm of our government — elected officials or the aides that are keeping them going?

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the oldest member of Congress at 90, serves as another case in point. Multiple reports suggest that she shows signs of cognitive decline, and her staff strategically keeps her away from media scrutiny. Last year, lawmakers informed the San Francisco Chronicle that they had to reintroduce themselves to Feinstein multiple times during policy discussions.

“Feinstein, 88, repeated the same small-talk questions, like asking the lawmaker what mattered to voters in their district, the member of Congress said, with no apparent recognition the two had already had a similar conversation,” the newspaper reported.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who will turn 84 next March, and former President Donald Trump, who would be 82 at the end of a hypothetical second term if elected in 2024, are also part of this aging political landscape. While both seem to be in relatively good health, age is a factor that is inevitably ticking against them.

The consequences of politicians holding onto office well past their prime can be far-reaching. For instance, Alaska faced an unexpected shift in representation when Congressman Don Young passed away in March 2022 at the age of 88.

Young’s sudden death led to the election of Mary Peltola, a far-left Democrat, resulting in a significant ideological swing for Alaska in Congress, putting the state in the minority with a representative who voted 18 times for Rep. Hakeem Jeffries for speaker, and who voted against parents’ rights, against women’s athletic integrity, and in favor of D.C. street criminals.

This begs the question: Are lawmakers prioritizing governance over the allure of holding onto power, especially when their ability to serve effectively is in severe decline? States like Kentucky and California are now grappling with the same issues Alaska faced last year. Will McConnell and Feinstein fizzle to the finish line, or will they, like Young, exit office in a manner that disrupts their entire state?

It’s time for a candid national discussion about the implications of an aging political class. Our founding fathers were a generation younger than today’s old-timers: George Washington became president when he was 57, and he died at age 67. Thomas Jefferson was 33 when he became the youngest member of the second continental Congress, and he was 57 when he was elected president. James Madison became president at age 57, and died at 85.

Today, people are living longer, so even though the bulge of Baby Boomers is nearing its end, this tendency to stick around as a seat-warmer in the halls of Congress is not going away. Power is just too seductive.

We already do have age limits: In the House, members must be at least 25 years old to serve, and it’s 30 in the Senate.

Rather than allowing ego and power to supersede good governance, we must consider whether an age cap at the other end of the spectrum could better serve us in the House and Senate, which are, after all, meant to be a representative democracy, not God’s waiting room.

Suzanne Downing is publisher of Must Read Alaska.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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