American politics, golden nursing home?
The American political class, with a few exceptions, is clearly not known for its youth and freshness. President Joe Biden celebrates his 80th birthday on November 20, joining a rather large club of eight that includes, for example, 82-year-old Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. There are more septuagenarians.
By joining the octogenarian club on Sunday, President Joe Biden is no match for an American political class where young faces are so rare that they are sometimes described as a gerontocracy.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is 82 years old. In the Senate, it’s hardly less: Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will soon turn 72. Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has 80.
A breeze of freshness—quite relative—may still not blow. Nancy Pelosi gave up on running for another term as president on Thursday, saying she wanted to make way for a “new generation.” So are the other two House Democratic seniors, James Clyburn and Steny Hoyer, 82 and 83, respectively.
On the other hand, none chose to give up their place.
52 years old
Hakeem Jeffries, who will replace Nancy Pelosi, looks like a young man in the ranks of Congress at the age of 52.
That’s about 35 fewer than some of his colleagues, like Republican Chuck Grassley. At age 89, he has just returned for an eighth term as a senator – at the start of his political career, in 1959, Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House.
Another senator, Richard Shelby, 88, was born a year before the invention of canned beer. He will retire at the end of the year.
The case of 89-year-old Sen. Dianne Feinstein has recently reignited the debate surrounding the age at which elected officials must leave office. The marked decline in cognitive ability of this respected figure calls into question his ability to perform his duties.
The face of the new Congress is not yet fully known, the counting of some ballots has not been completed. But the former’s age is far from young: his average age was one of the highest in history (58 in the House of Representatives, 64 in the Senate).
Thanks to the recent mid-term elections, some new figures will be coming to parliament.
For example, 25-year-old Democrat Maxwell Frost will be the first representative of “Generation Z”, whose interests he intends to defend.
“It’s important to have governance that looks like the country,” he told AFP in October, annoyed by some of the clichés about his generation, deemed impatient. “I’d say we know what we want.”
He will join an equally determined young Capitol Hill guard.
One of the most famous, 30-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, or “AOC,” is both a favorite of left-leaning Democrats and a pet of conservatives.
But these chosen ones are just a drop in the gray ocean. And the highest positions in Congress are filled by seniors.
According to a CBS News poll published in September, nearly three-quarters of Americans believe there should be an age limit for elected officials.
Whether they are Democrats or Republicans, very young or in their sixties, the ratio is similar, a rare sign of unity in a country whose divisions do not escape anyone.
“People seem to be very much in favor of the idea of having a younger elected representative,” said AFP political science researcher Damon Roberts, but “they’re not really ready to translate that will into a vote.” University of Colorado-Boulder.
He adds that voters consider ethnicity or gender more than age when they cast their ballots.
Other factors may also explain this tendency to select candidates who are easily past retirement age.
There are institutional barriers: You must be 25 to be a member of the House, at least 30 for the Senate, and at least 35 to pretend to be in the White House.
Americans generally see younger candidates as less qualified, “less experienced” and “more ideologically extreme” than their elders, Damon Roberts continues.
Facing a younger candidate during his 1984 re-election campaign, President Ronald Reagan raised these arguments.
During the debate, when a reporter pointed out to him that he was the oldest American president in history — Joe Biden has since dethroned him — the Republican responded with a masterful critique.
“I will not put age at the center of this campaign. I will not use my opponent’s youth and inexperience for political purposes.” Two weeks later, a wave of White House elections confirmed this.