The Advanced Age of Political Leaders: Should We Be Worried?

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As our country ages with every passing day, our most important political figures age with it. However, could these individuals ever be considered too old to lead?

The 2024 presidential campaign currently underway has become a significant hotspot for debate over the senior status of our country’s leaders. President Joe Biden, running for a second term, is currently 81-years-old—the oldest in America’s history. His rival, Donald Trump, is only four years Biden’s junior, at a mere 77-years-old. And with the November election looming over our heads, the mental capabilities of these contenders have gained consideral public attention.

With a majority of our political leaders being well over the typical age of retirement, our country is as unstable as ever. Legislators nearing a hundred are still allowed to make decisions for the entire nation—how is this allowed? 

Biden’s age made national headlines when he appeared at a conference to address a special counsel’s scathing report considering him a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.” These claims dug a deeper hole for Biden’s already present vulnerability in his political campaign.

Robert K. Hur, the special counsel investigating President Biden, disclosed in his 388-page report that even though the president had willfully retained classified documents, no criminal charges were made. As mentioned by CBS News, the special counsel believed that Biden’s actions were not enough to be considered criminal by the Department of Justice mainly due to Biden’s advanced age. Hur attributed his reluctance to Biden’s decimating memory and lack of appropriate mental acuity needed for his job.

When Biden took to the podium, he took an even larger political blow. In a state of anger, he made several trip-ups that made people question his age even further. He mistakenly referred to the president of Egypt as the president of Mexico twice in his speech. He also mixed up the names of a current European leader with one he had met 30 years ago. 

Throughout his presidency, Biden has constantly been a target of Republicans who attempt to paint him as weak by typically pointing out his speech blunders and stiff physique. This has sparked many conflicts between the Republican and Democratic parties about the upcoming presidential election. In a study conducted by National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), there is a significant difference between the age trends of subjects in their early thirties compared to their sixties. We can analyze that as age increased, the accuracy of their memory, reasoning, spatial visualization and speed became considerably worse. And for a job as tough as President of the United States, mental acuity is a fundamental strength that is needed. So how can our country possibly function when our president is in his eighties? 

On the topic of old age, Congress is a particular example of our government being built on seniority.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, at the age of 81, has no plans of stepping down from his role despite many questions being raised about his health. According to NBC News, he froze twice while speaking and needed assistance from others at two news conferences. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, at 90 years old, is currently the oldest member in Congress. Many have commented that Feinstein’s “diminished mental capacity” has negatively impacted her work. 

These two leaders are important reminders that these veteran lawmakers are still in charge of our country despite being over the typical retirement age.

Most Americans today are retiring at 61 years old, according to a study conducted by Gallup. In contrast, the average age of voting House lawmakers is 57.9 years, while the Senate’s median is 65.3 years. And with that, millennials are largely under-represented in our government. According to Gen, there has not been a single millennial in Senate to this day.

Many Americans are highly supportive of seeing a younger face in public office, due to having beliefs that are more relevant to today’s society. Noah Burden, a 28 year old communications consultant, believes that the top candidates for the upcoming election were closer to his age.

“They [are] too old overall,” Burden said to AP News. “That older generation represents a sense of values and sense of the country and the world that just is [not] accurate anymore.”

Similar to Burden’s views, many other Americans want to consider age limits on presidential and Congressional candidates, as well as a mandatory retirement age for all Supreme Court justices. 

Though, when is the line crossed between simply criticizing someone for their age and being ageist?

Despite the ages of these politicians in office, they have been effective leaders and have not jeopardized our legislation in any way. The complaints and dismissive comments made by the public are due to the onset of a major crisis in America — a “gerontocracy,” defined as “a government ruled by the elderly.”

Many have used this term to blatantly discriminate against older political leaders by claiming that their age is hindering the success of our country. 

Current presidential candidate Nikki Haley has fueled attention to the issue in her official campaign announcement. She advocated for politicians over the age of 75 to be subject to mental competency tests, calling for younger people to take their place.

Despite the increasing age of America’s leading politicians, a change in government is highly unlikely—these older legislators are only growing more powerful, especially with the onset of the 2024 presidential election. For the sake of our country, it is now increasingly important for newer generations to take a stand and involve themselves in politics to become our future leaders.

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