Welcome to American Gerontocracy

American politicians are above average - in age

By Morf Morford, Tacoma Daily Index

When it comes to politicians, how old is too old?

You might be forgiven for believing that to hold some, if not all, the highest offices in the land, there would be some solid ethical requirements or at least guidelines. Oddly enough, the requirements for the highest office in the land are, according to the US Constitution, remarkably minimal.

Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution imposes only three eligibility requirements on persons serving as president, based on the officeholder’s age, time of residency in the U.S., and citizenship status:

No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.

Besides being a citizen, and time residing within US borders, the only actual requirement is age – and it’s an age minimum – not a maximum. No particular degree or work experience is required – but reaching the minimum age is.

Supreme Court Justices are appointed for life. Politicians need to run for re-election, but once in place there is no limit (for most) as to how long (or at what age) they can serve. And as we are seeing, some officeholders just don’t want to let go.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is 81 years old. Donald Trump will be 78 by election Day. President Biden will turn 82 in November of 2023.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), now 90, recently missed nearly three months of work due to a bad case of shingles.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is relatively young at 72. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), is 89. Nancy Pelosi turned 83 this year.

The median age in the Senate is a touch over 65.

Age is, of course, not absolute. Some of us age a bit more gracefully than others. Some are fit and intellectually active at 80 while others have a variety of accumulating health issues that become ever more apparent – if not intrusive – over the years. And sometimes far earlier.

Able to do the job?

To restate the obvious, holding high office in an age of cyber-attacks and global threats from viruses to terrorism and unprecedented weather patterns and catastrophes, among a dozen or so inherently competing if not contradictory other issues, is immensely complicated.

Whether one person, of any age or any education or experience, can do the job has been a persistent question.

Whether we should trust the highest office in the land to one who is objectively more vulnerable to the next trip, fall or virus is an open question.

GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley called for a universal rule requiring politicians over the age of 75 to take “mental competency tests” before running for office. What that test would look like – and who would analyze or “grade” it would be, at minimum, contested by almost everyone. I wonder how many of us, in any position, would fare on such a test….

But why 75? Are 60-, or 50- or even 40-year-olds inherently more reliably stable and competent? Would some kind of test for all presidential and congressional candidates be an answer? But again, who would develop and proctor such a test?

Would we need a new Agency for Governmental Effectiveness (aka AGE)? Or an Office of Longevity Development (aka OLD)?

At least we agree on something

In our polarized times, perhaps extended age is the ultimate non-partisan issue.

Eighty-five percent of Republicans and 71 percent of independents said they have doubts about Biden’s ability to lead effectively – especially in a second term. And if he is reelected in 2024, he will be 86 at the end of his second term.

Democrats are not excited either. A recent Harvard CPAS/Harris Poll found that 43 percent of Democrats think Biden is too old to be president.

Somehow I don’t think 80 is the new 60, but where are the young candidates when we need them?

Editor’s note: The requirements for president and VP have been changed since the original Constitution. Under the 12th Amendment, the same three qualifications were applied to the vice president of the United States. The 22nd Amendment limited office holders to two terms as president.