Prehistoric politicians: A necessary age limit

Senators Mitch McConnell, Chris Van Hollen and John Fetterman have all displayed symptoms of a stroke in the past year. It seems that every other day, I read yet another news article about an elected official suffering from an age-related medical issue. I worry not only for the health of our representatives, but for how their health may impair their decisions and therefore my future. 

As I’ve gotten older, so have those leading our country. It’s hard to rationalize keeping people in power when you begin to realize their ability to guide the country may be fading. Yet our older representatives keep getting reelected even as they continue to decline in health. The system we have now enables positions to be lifelong terms, stunting progress. 

For example Dianne Feinstein, the former oldest sitting senator, served from her election in 1992 until her passing on Sept. 29, 2023. In her younger years, Feinstein was viewed as an unstoppable force and was known for breaking barriers. She fought for issues such as water and gun safety, spearheaded the gay  rights movement and was commended for her efforts to expose CIA torture. However, as she got older she became more of a hindrance than help, making it harder to provoke change in Congress.

In 2019, activist youth group the Sunrise Movement sent a group of teens to Feinstein’s office to ask for her support on the Green New Deal, a radical bill to address climate change. As the teens tried to argue their stance, she failed to hear their complaints and pushed back against them. Their interaction circulated throughout social media where she received subsequent backlash.

On top of her views becoming static, Feinstein’s age impacted her ability to be present for important events, like judiciary committee appointment meetings. She was absent from the Senate for weeks at a time as she recovered from shingles, causing problems for her fellow Democrats who couldn’t approve President Biden’s federal court nominees without her present. Not only did other senators call for her removal, Feinstein herself requested she be temporarily relieved from the judiciary committee until she recovered. Republican Lindsey Graham then blocked that motion.

As a soon-to-be voter, I want to have faith in the people leading my country. How can I expect my representatives to make urgent decisions in a crisis when they can’t even make it to a meeting? Or when they have to be removed from a podium because they freeze up in the middle of a speech, like several have recently? What can I expect from someone who is showing signs of mental deterioration? In no way do I believe that age determines competence, but I do think it’s time for some politicians to pass on the torch.

In extreme circumstances, a president can be forcibly removed from office in accordance with the 25th Amendment. I’m not saying we should impeach every elected official the public considers to be elderly, but I do believe that in cases of people suffering geriatric illnesses or injuries, the 25th Amendment shouldn’t be taboo.

The option to exercise the 25th Amendment should extend to Congress and the Supreme Court as well. When representatives stay in office until death rather than stepping down on their own it creates unintended consequences. After Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away in 2020 she left a spot open on the Supreme Court that President Donald Trump filled with his nominee, Amy Coney Barrett. If Ginsburg had stepped down earlier when former President Barack Obama was still in office, that spot could have gone to a successor who may not have opted to overturn Roe v. Wade, like Coney Barrett did in the crucial 5-4 Dobbs v. Jackson decision.

In 2020, when the candidates for the presidency were 74 and 78, we not only had to consider their objectives as a president but also their health. With the concern that older presidents may not serve their whole term, we must also take a closer look at their vice presidential candidates. In 2024, President Biden will be 82-years-old, and right now, it appears that his opponent will once again be Trump. 

The longer a representative stays in office, the more they fade into the background and appeal only to the audience that will reelect them. Electing younger candidates who are more eager to promote change could keep us from getting stuck. 

We have age minimums required to run for each level of representative and executive office. Officials need to grasp the world we live in before we can expect them to lead, but we also have to consider that their expertise may come with an expiration date.

Generation X and millennials make up for 66% of registered voters, but they only comprise 45% of Congress. However, boomers and those from the silent generation fill over half of Congress’ seats, despite only accounting for 22% of registered voters. There isn’t some grand expectation that I will start to see people of my own generation become well-funded candidates for major elections, but the current representation is certainly disproportionate to the voter age demographic.

We already have well-established age minimums. It’s time to consider age maximums as well. 

Isabella Morgan

Senior Isabella (Izzy) Morgan is the Co-Editor-in-Chief during her fourth year with BluePrints Magazine. She would like to major in an animal science field and minor in photography. She plays softball for the Lady Jags softball team and hopes to publish photojournalism pieces as well as cover larger events this year in journalism. Morgan appreciates the opportunity BluePrints provides to learn from her peers and improve her writing and photography skills.

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