Title: Age and Fitness in Question: Concerns Arise Over Aging Politicians in America
Subtitle: Recent incidents with McConnell and Feinstein bring the issue of age in public office to the forefront
NEW YORK.- After a series of troubling moments in the United States last week, citizens, strategists, and even politicians find it impossible to avoid an uncomfortable question: Until what age can you hold public office?
For years, like so many children of aging parents in America, politicians and their advisers in Washington have tried to sidestep that difficult conversation, saying nothing about the concerns it raises about its octogenarian leaders. They were able to keep quiet thanks to the traditions of a city that endows public figures with a battalion of assistants who manage most of their professional and personal lives.
“I don’t know what the magic number is, but it seems to me that, as a general rule, well, when you’re over eighty it’s time to think about relaxing a bit,” said Trent Lott, 81, a former Republican Senate Majority Leader who retired at 67 to found his own lobbying firm. “The problem is that you get elected to a six-year term, you’re in great shape, but four years later you may not be so great.”
In the past week, two closely scrutinized episodes have pushed the issue of aging gracefully in public office out of the halls of Congress and into the national conversation.
On Wednesday, a video circulated on the internet and in the news in which you can see Senator Mitch McConnell, 81, stand still for 20 seconds in front of the cameras. Less than 24 hours later, another video of Senator Dianne Feinstein, 90, surfaced in which she looked confused when asked to vote in a commission.
A political debate on the question of age has been raging for months as the United States grapples with the possibility of a presidential contest between the oldest candidates in the country’s history. President Joe Biden, 80, who is already the longest-serving president in the White House, aspires to a second term, and Donald Trump, 77, leads the Republican primary race.
“When I say we have to pass the baton to the younger generation, I’m not talking about very young people,” said Dean Phillips, a 54-year-old representative from Minnesota, the only Democrat in Congress to testify that Feinstein should resign and that Biden should not run for re-election. “I only mean a reasonably older generation,” he explained.
McConnell’s hiatus created a new opportunity for the younger contenders to raise the issue in a more forceful way. On Friday, the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, 44, a leading Republican presidential hopeful, criticized the political gerontocracy in the country.
“Officials used to serve in their prime and then pass the baton to the next generation, and it seems to me that this generation has not been as willing to do that.” DeSantis told conservative commentator Megyn Kelly, noting that Biden became a senator in 1973, five years before DeSantis was born.
Former President Donald Trump, who would be 82 at the end of a second term, defended Biden, stating that the president should not be belittled because of his age. “He is not an old man,” Trump posted this month on Truth Social, his social media platform. “Actually, life begins at 80!”
Biden’s doctors have said he is in good health. Less is known about Trump’s health after his departure from the White House. Since Biden fell to the ground after tripping over a sandbag in June, White House aides have grown increasingly sensitive to any hint that he is physically handicapped.
Some of Biden’s top advisers argue that his campaign should directly address the issue of age as a political advantage—and an undeniable reality—rather than avoiding the issue.
“Age is a superpower,” said Jeffrey Katzenberg, a 72-year-old Hollywood mogul, whom Biden named as his campaign co-chairman. “You can’t run away from her because you’re 80, right? She cannot be denied. I have been on the side that firmly believes that it is one of its greatest advantages.
Polls indicate that voters think differently, as many Democrats worry about Biden’s age amid Republican attacks. In a YouGov poll last year, most Americans favored having age limits for civil servants who reach office through elections, but there was no consensus on the exact limit.
The decision to step down from such an important and powerful post is a difficult one, but the alternative—aging in the public eye—could be worse, some retired senators have warned.
“It’s heartbreaking, it’s embarrassing, but it’s up to you how you deal with reality,” said Chuck Hagel, 77, who was a senator from Nebraska and left office in 2009. “The reality is we’re not racing against time, we’re all getting older. At 77, compared to 62 when I left the Senate, I now have pain I didn’t even know I would have.”
As age becomes an increasingly relevant issue in American politics, citizens, strategists, and politicians must confront the uncomfortable question of until what age public office can be held. Recent incidents involving politicians like Mitch McConnell and Dianne Feinstein have brought this issue to the forefront. The debate over age in public office has intensified with the possibility of a presidential contest between Joe Biden, 80, and Donald Trump, 77, two of the oldest candidates in US history. While some argue that age brings experience and wisdom, others question the physical and cognitive fitness of aging politicians. The topic of age limits for public servants who reach office through elections has gained traction, but there is still no consensus on the exact limit. Nevertheless, the issue of aging politicians cannot be ignored, and the country must grapple with the challenges it presents in maintaining a healthy and effective democracy.