Age has increasingly become a political topic in Washington. Recently, the 90-year-old senator from California, Dianne Feinstein, seems completely confused in a senate meeting and did not take any questions later in the day as she was pushed in a wheelchair out to a waiting car. Her term is up in 2025 and she is still considering running again. Why not? After all Strom Thurmond was 100 when he left the senate and Robert Byrd 92.
81-year-old republican senate leader Mitch McConnell froze up twice in a few weeks before cameras. Seemed completely comatized. The average age of the members of the senate is 64.3 years, an age when many workers retire. The two front-runners in the presidential election 2024 are already 80 and 77, but this does not seem to impact the voters. There are some advantages with old people such as plentiful experience and connections. Some disadvantages are declining health, confusion and disassociation from modern, relevant topics.
There might also be a sense of immortality among the politicians, and that they are so important, they cannot not be replaced. And among DC non-politicians too. When supreme court judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg died at 87 in 2020, one could wonder why she, a liberal democrat did not resign under the Obama presidency to make room for another liberal democrat, appointed by Obama. Instead, Ruth Bader Ginsburg decided to wait and keep working until her death, paving the way for Trump to appoint the conservative republican Amy Coney Barrett as her replacement. Maybe Ruth Bader Ginsberg was certain that Hillary Clinton would win in 2016 or she thought she would live to see another democratic president. Or maybe she thought she was immortal and irreplaceable?
Polls show that voters are increasingly concerned of old leaders when asked if she or he is too old to participate in elections. A majority thinks both Biden and Trump are too old to become president again. But they are still the main candidates. Voices are being raised for a mandatory retirement age, both for congress and the supreme court. As judges in the supreme court sit for life without being democratically elected, it does seem reasonable with a mandatory retirement age for them, say 70 or 75 years old. The nine current judges are actually not that old, ranging from the youngest justice Jackson at 52 to the oldest justice Thomas at 75. Also, would they not enjoy some freedom and quiet retirement time after a long time of working and service? That would seem reasonable and humane.
Elected politicians on the other hand, often grandiose, narcissistic and delusional, should probably not have a mandated retirement age. A politician can be popular and work hard for his community or state and be the right choice. The only argument for mandated retirement could be corruption as they build up their power bases over time, often linked to donors and key businesses in their constituencies. They might also have created such a power base that opposition is censored, and elections no longer are fair. But politics is by nature a dirty game and in order to fully live the American dream, elected politicians should be able to sit in the house of representatives or in the senate as long as they are elected and as long as they are alive. One would assume voters at some point would turn to a younger candidate. Either way, old, really old, politicians are most likely here to stay. Paul Biya, the president of Cameroon is 90 and still going strong.