Nancy Pelosi, the Democrats’ leader in the House of Representatives, is fighting off opposition to prevent her from becoming Speaker of the House. She’s 78, been around forever. But opponents don’t often mention her age – because by Washington’s standards, she’s not that old.
Arguably never has the United States been run by a more elderly cast. Everywhere you turn there’s a museum piece.
The two other most powerful House Democrats are assistant leader Jim Clyburn, who is 78, and Steny Hoyer, the 79-year-old relic who serves as Democratic Whip. On the women’s side Ms. Pelosi is several years younger than another formidable force, Senator Dianne Feinstein, who clocks in at 85.
For the Republicans, things aren’t much different. Donald Trump was the oldest man ever to be elected president. He is now 72. Fossiltown’s other major GOP figure, now that House Speaker Paul Ryan is exiting, is Mitch McConnell, the Senate leader. He is 76.
To gauge the measure of the gerontocracy, Ottawa offers a remarkable comparison. The average age of Washington’s leaders – Mr. Trump, Ms. Pelosi, Mr. McConnell - is 75. In Canada, the three major party leaders - Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh – have an average age of 41.That’s a 34 year spread. A generation and a half.
The average age of Mr. Trump’s cabinet is north of 60. Mr. Trudeau’s cabinet age average is 50ish, similar to the cabinets of other recent prime ministers, but still much younger than Mr. Trump’s. And John Kelly, the President’s Chief of Staff is 68, while the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, Katie Telford is 28 years younger.
The age difference might help explain, in part at least, the regressive views of those in power in the U.S. on guns, immigration, nationalism, trade and climate change. As generalities have it, the old have more knowledge but are more set in their ways while the young have more creativity, imagination, energy. For the planning purposes of a nation, the younger are the better bet. The elderly don’t have much of an eye to the future for the simple reason, you might say, that they don’t have one.
Washington lawmakers tend to be older than Ottawa’s because electoral success in the U.S. is driven far more by money. Youth don’t have the bucks to mount zillion dollar campaigns. Once in office, the advantages of incumbency are such that the elected tend to stay elected into their later years. Historically the re-election rate for the U.S. Congress is about 90 per cent.
Being old doesn’t come with the baggage it used to. Few talk about 65 as the retirement age any more. For the Democrats, Joe Biden, 76, is contemplating a presidential bid as is Bernie Sanders at 77. Heavy hitters on Capitol Hill include judiciary committee chair Chuck Grassley, a Republican who is 85. There is no big push to chuck Chuck. On the Democratic side, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer turns 68 this week.
Any move toward term limits, which was talked about by Mr. Trump in his 2016 election campaign, is wingless. And nowhere are limits more direly needed than at the immensely powered Supreme Court where the average age is also over 60.
It is outrageous that justices are appointed for life to this court. No one should be given a stranglehold on such power for, in some cases, up to three or four decades. The lifetime appointments – the Canadian court with mandatory retirement at age 75 isn’t much better – flow from a stipulation in the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution was written at a time when life expectancy was about 50. As it is in relation to guns, it’s anachronistic on tenure for justices.
In respect to the savvy Ms. Pelosi, who did yeowoman work for the Democrats in getting the Affordable Care Act though Congress, opposition to her Speaker’s bid derives from a punishing Republican attack ad barrage in the midterm elections. This led some campaigning Democrats to pledge opposition to her Speaker candidacy. Recalling Hillary Clinton’s staid presidential campaign, there are also party members wanting new thinking from younger minds.
But not many Democrats or Republicans are attacking Ms. Pelosi on the basis of age. Those in the party hierarchies realize how hypocritical, given their own advancing years, it would be to do so. They want to keep the gerontocracy alive.