The Politic Scene is Getting Old … Literally
If Hollywood were to produce a movie about the current political scene it might be called “The Geezers.”
The two leading candidates for the 2024 presidential election are both old – Biden at 80 and Trump at 77. While Biden tends to “show his age” more than Trump, both are in that red zone of life when “anything can happen.” If either of them is returned to the Oval Office in 2025, he will be the oldest person to ever serve as President. That means voters will be acutely interested in the person serving as Vice President.
Until January 2021, when she stepped down, Nancy Pelosi (83) was the Speaker of the House. She has not shown any signs of physical or mental debility that would impede her ability to service. That is also true of her younger counterpart in the Senate, Chuck Schumer (72). Regardless, they are still old.
We have had several recent examples of the frailty of aging officeholders. Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (81) recently had a “medical event” during a press conference. He stopped speaking midstream and stood staring blankly into space for more than 30 seconds. Other senators came to his aid and assisted him away from the podium. He returned a few minutes later declaring himself to be “okay.”
Any older person – or people with experience with an older person – knows that McConnell was not “okay.” It would be impossible to know what happened without a medical examination, but it is fair to say that it was not a good sign. McConnell has also had several falls lately – on one occasion suffering a broken rib and a concussion.
The ravages of age are bipartisan. California Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein (90) returned to the Senate after a prolonged convalescence at home. There had been whispered concerns about her mental acuity prior to her absence – and there were friendly calls for her to retire during her stay at home. While she did not resign, she did give up her chairmanship of the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee. Her return has been marred by a number of “senior moments.”
The next oldest member of the Senate is Republican Chuck Grassley (88). So far, he has not had any public “events” that raised questions about his physical or mental abilities. He has a long way to tie the record of South Carolian Democrat-turned-Republican Senator Strom Thurmond, who cast his last vote on the floor of the Senate at the age of 100 – after which he resigned and died shortly thereafter.
Some politicians retire when they feel they no longer have the stamina or mental ability to fulfill the duties of the office. Others will run for reelection as long as the voters will reelect them. The most obvious and unfortunate example of that was President Franklin Roosevelt.
The importance of an officeholder’s age and condition obviously depends on the level of the office. In the case of Roosevelt, his declining health had negative impacts on American public policy. He was terminally ill throughout his campaign for a fourth term – propped up by staff and shielded by a friendly media. Many blame his condition for the unfortunate results of the Yalta Conference in which the Soviet Union’s Joseph Stalin was ceded hegemony over eastern Europe. Roosevelt died a few weeks after the Conference.
In almost every political generation, there is a call for “passing the torch” to a new generation of leaders. The current generation has been exceptionally tenacious in maintaining a tight grip on the proverbial torch. They cannot go on forever – but they can go beyond their ability to provide the American people with good service.
Personally, I favor a constitutional amendment that would ban anyone from running for federal office – President, Senate and House – after attaining the age of 75 for the presidency and the Senate, and 78 for the House. Yes, that would mean that neither Biden nor Trump would be eligible to run today. I suspect that none of the current aforementioned officeholders would approve of my proposal.
In terms of that hypothetical movie, would it be a drama, a comedy … or a horror flick?
So, there ‘tis.