OPINION: Abolish the Congressional Gerontocracy

by Cooper Bowen

National/World Editor

The United States of America, infamous adolescent of the world stage, has become a gerontocracy. The chambers of the Capitol Building are filled not with bright young minds bursting with with ideas and ambition, but rather with the increasingly senile and incompetent elderly. These aging senators and representatives block the way for a new generation of leaders who not only would better reflect the country they represent, but also be more willing and able to tackle the pressing issues of the modern era. To solve this crisis, members of Congress should no longer be permitted to run for office after reaching retirement age.


79-year-old Tennessee Congressman Lamar Alexander Jr. poses for a photo.

While such a request might seem radical, or even verging on ageist, it is no more extreme than requiring members of the House to be 25 years old and members of the Senate 30. At the beginning of the 116th Congress, the average age of members of the US House was 57.6 years; for Senators, it was nearly 63. The median age of the rest of the United States population, by contrast, is 37.8 years, according to recent census calculations. This massive age gap is indicative of an unrepresentative government, as younger Americans aren’t seeing legislators who share their priorities in that same way that older Americans do. The oldest senator in Congress, California’s very own Dianne Feinstein at 86 years young, was born six years before WWII began; the youngest senator, Josh Hawly of Missouri, is “only” 40. The fact that half of the entire country is younger than even the very youngest senator in Congress should inspire outrage and indignation from every American who values a representative government.

 Older legislators aren’t just out of touch with the age demographics of the American people; they are woefully unprepared to deal with complex emerging technological crises. In the 21st century, lawmakers encounter issues entirely unique to the age of technology, such as internet accessibility rights and the future of powerful data-collecting systems. Elderly members of Congress, to put it bluntly, lack the experience and knowledge to vote with confidence on these topics. Consider this: would you really want your grandparents to control your privacy rights on the internet? Of course not; younger legislators are better qualified to make informed decisions in a world modernizing faster than ever before.

On top of this, older politicians don’t have to live with the long-term impacts of their votes; younger members of Congress, on the other hand, quite simply have more at stake. Take climate change, for example: young congresspeople will have to spend decades in a world either saved or destroyed by the policies they write and the laws they vote on. Should we really be relying on politicians, many of whom will be lucky to live long enough to see the mid-century impacts of a changing climate, determine quite literally the fate of our planet?

One thing elderly senators and representatives are good at, however, is preventing younger Americans from entering political office. The incumbency advantage held by these aging legislators allows them to keep a new generation of lawmakers out of Congress, locking the gerontocracy in place indefinitely. If these same politicians, however, were prevented from running for political office after reaching a reasonable set retirement age, this age-old system could be dismantled. 65 years, the same age airline pilots are forced to retire under the Fair Treatment for Experienced Pilots Act, seems reasonable.

If we are going to assume that young people are incapable of representing our country, is it so outrageous to extend the same reasoning to the extremely old? America needs to reclaim its government, and its democracy as a whole, before our country as a whole ages into oblivion.

(Sources: US Census, US Senate)


Categories: Opinion, Web Exclusive

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