US politicians are remaining in office well past the average retirement age, which is raising questions about their mental and physical abilities. Last week, Republican presidential hopeful Nikki Haley called for term limits and mental competency tests for politicians over the age of 75, stating that “they need to let a younger generation take over.” Haley’s remarks came after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell froze for the second time during a press conference, requiring assistance from an aide. These instances highlight the need to address the issue of aging politicians.
Capitol Hill is starting to resemble a taxpayer-funded retirement home, with 105 lawmakers over the age of 70. The median age for House legislators is 57.9, while the median age for Senators is 65.3, making it one of the oldest legislative bodies in the world. However, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans, whose presidential front-runners are both elderly, are in a position to demand term limits and cognitive ability tests.
Historically, the US has rarely had leaders in their 70s and 80s. It wasn’t until Dwight D. Eisenhower that America had its first 70-year-old president. With Joe Biden and Donald Trump, the US currently has its oldest leaders. However, longevity can’t be solely attributed to advances in healthcare, as past presidents like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison lived into their 80s and 90s.
A new survey by The Wall Street Journal shows that a majority of respondents believe Biden is mentally unfit for the presidency and too old for the position. This raises the question of why politicians want to remain in office well beyond retirement age. The allure of public service may not be the only factor. Many lawmakers can take advantage of the revolving door between Capitol Hill and the corporate world, securing lucrative positions as lobbyists, consultants, and strategists. Additionally, the access to inside information and the opportunity for financial gain may incentivize politicians to stay in office.
The 2020 congressional insider trading scandal exposed lawmakers who sold stocks after a closed-door meeting about the Covid-19 outbreak. Despite the clear violation, no charges were brought against these politicians, raising further concerns about integrity and accountability.
While term limits may seem like a solution, they can be seen as anti-democratic, preventing new faces from entering the political arena. To strike a balance, one possibility is to impose a mandatory retirement age, such as 75, while allowing voters to determine the number of terms an elected official may serve until that age. This would provide a fresh influx of new voices while still considering the preferences of the electorate.
Ultimately, there is no foolproof solution, and the debate around aging politicians will continue. However, it’s essential to consider previous examples, such as Ronald Reagan, who served as president until the age of 77 and led a successful second term. This challenges the notion that younger candidates would always be more effective. As the issue of aging politicians persists, a thoughtful and nuanced approach is necessary to address the concerns without undermining the democratic process.