The Senile State

Our politicians are not too old—but their ideas are

by Michael Lind, Tablet

August 08, 2023

Does America have a gerontocracy problem? A look at the leading contenders for the White House in 2024 might suggest that it does.

When Joe Biden was inaugurated at 78 he was older than Reagan was when he left office after eight years. In 2024, Biden will be 81 and Trump 78. A Biden-Trump rematch in 2024 would be a showdown between geezer gladiators.

The problem of gerontocracy is easy to exaggerate, however, because Biden and Trump are not typical of recent presidents. At their inaugurations, Obama was 47, George W. Bush 54, and Bill Clinton 46. And the U.S. House of Representatives is getting younger. While the median age in today’s Senate is higher than ever at 55.3 years, the median age of members of the current 118th Congress is 57.9 years, down from the 117th’s median of 58.9.

Moreover, elderly presidents, senators, and members of the House do not have elderly staffs. In the current Congress, the average age of Senate staffers is 33 and the average age of House staffers is 32.

Elderly Supreme Court justices have clerks just out of law school to do research and draft opinions. Much of the actual work of government in Washington in every branch is done by men and women between their 20s and their 60s.

While upper age limits on government service should be considered, term limits regardless of age will always be a terrible idea. If they were enacted, the only people in Washington with institutional memories and knowledge of how government works would be lobbyists, senior staffers, and elite bureaucrats, who could take advantage of the ignorance of newly elected novices.


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