How Old is Too Old?
Reading Time: 4 minutes
In America, the elderly hold the power. Age builds knowledge and experience, but at some point, cognitive decline begins, and people struggle to relate to today’s fast-paced society. The average age of the Senate is 65, and in the House of Representatives, it’s 58. Older politicians in government are calling the shots on issues far beyond their understanding, insisting on staying in power as the youth attempt to fight against a plethora of social and political issues from beneath those with power. People from America’s post-World War II generations hold different values and goals. People, especially younger generations, need to stop voting elderly people into positions of power due to health risks and modern views that older politicians struggle to understand.
In 2020, President Joseph Biden became the oldest president in U.S. history. Biden is running again in 2024, which, if reelected, would make him over 86 years old by the end of his second term. During his first term, there have been numerous reports of falls and verbal falters. Two years ago, when Biden’s physician released a report on the president’s physical health, there was no mention of his cognitive health. While Biden claims that his age makes him wiser and more experienced, the president’s inevitable cognitive decline is more of a liability than an asset. As reported by an NBC poll, 70 percent of adult voters claimed that Biden should not run again, and 69 percent stated that his age was a major factor.
The issue of age isn’t just apparent with the president—many other influential American politicians are over 80. Notably, Senator Dianne Feinstein is 90 years old, and though she finally stated that she will not seek reelection in 2024, she has already endured multiple health crises during the past few years. She was most recently hospitalized after a fall in her home and battled shingles and encephalitis, or brain inflammation. 81-year-old Senator Mitch McConnell froze mid-sentence during a press conference in July 2023 before his colleagues guided him away from the cameras. McConnell had fallen in a hotel only three months prior, resulting in a concussion, in addition to at least two other falls in the following weeks. However, McConnell is unwilling to consider retirement, just as Feinstein had for the past decade.
Septuagenarian and octogenarian politicians claim to be fit for leadership positions; however, their health is an alarming issue. Alzheimer’s symptoms arise around the age of 60, and cognitive decline accelerates at 70. The recent COVID-19 pandemic, which can cause neurological issues and trigger psychiatric disorders, can also exacerbate pre-existing conditions. While mild cognitive impairment may not be detrimental to the average person, when political leaders are faced with international and domestic crises, mild impairment can be far more significant. While some politicians, such as Senator Bernie Sanders, are over 80 and healthy, the issue of older politicians doesn’t simply lie with health concerns.
Regardless of political party, elderly people struggle to relate to modern America and find importance in future issues. Young climate activist Greta Thunberg faces hostility from many older, powerful politicians who claim that Thunberg is too young to really know about climate change. An interview by the New York Times revealed that younger people don’t feel truly represented by older politicians regardless of their political affiliation, and that older officials are out of touch with the issues and cultures of today’s society. Some people stated that older politicians rarely stick to their word since they are more concerned with keeping their seats in government.
Many have argued that age limits are unconstitutional and could potentially be classified as ageism. Additionally, it’s difficult to settle on an age to create a limit because people age mentally and cognitively at different rates. Seventy-four percent of Americans are in favor of term limits in Congress. While congressional term limits seem like a more realistic solution to gerontocracy, limits can also prevent the government from operating effectively because they can prevent politicians from gaining experience and stop them from pushing legislation through, a process that can take years. Though term limits can be beneficial, it doesn’t address the fact that there isn’t an issue simply with older people in government—the problem is that older elected officials hold the majority of power.
One of the easier ways to address gerontocracy without going through the long process of changing the constitution is for voters to elect younger qualified candidates into government. Representative Nancy Pelosi stepped down for a new generation of Democrats to lead the people, as relatively younger officials can lead with fresh ideas, diversity, and perspectives. While Pelosi is regarded with the utmost respect for her leadership and power, Congress must be led by people who grew up adapting to fast change in a world that is constantly moving at an accelerated pace. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, also recognized as AOC, is 33 years old and has been at the forefront of politics and continues to advocate for modern issues such as transgender rights, the fight against climate change, and immigration rights. AOC and other younger politicians understand that the youth is directly affected by modern and future issues, so they fight for younger generations and are more likely to advocate for radical change without worrying about keeping voters and popularity.
As life expectancy continues to rise, the population of politically relevant people will increase, and people who first come to power in their forties may remain in power until they are over 100 years old. Will society let one generation hold so much power for over 60 years? Students need to help make change. Stuyvesant has student-led climate walkouts and clubs advocating for change, but legal change occurs in government. Younger officials can better represent what students are currently fighting for, which is why students should register to vote as soon as possible to make sure that their voices are heard and represented by younger politicians