Our past two presidents have been the oldest in U.S. history. When elected, Donald Trump at 70-years-old replaced Ronald Reagan at 69-years-old as the oldest elected president. Just one election later, Americans voted between the two oldest presidential candidates in U.S. history — Joe Biden at 78 and Trump at 74.
Despite the hyper-media attention on Biden and Trump, aging candidates are not only seen in the presidential races. In Congress, much of the leadership — including the House Speaker, House majority leader, House minority whip, Senate majority and minority leader — are all over the age of 70.
Moreover, of the current 100 U.S. senators, 27 are over the age of 70 and 50 senators are over the age of 65. Not a very proportional representation of the U.S. population given only about 54 million Americans are over the age of 65, making up only about 16% of the population.
So, why are American politicians so old? Why haven’t younger politicians assumed more prominent positions in U.S. politics?
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Additionally, President Biden was elected because many voters felt he represents a more moderate brand of liberal politics, something many older voters support more than the more progressive politics of the younger generations.
While many reject Biden’s supposed centrism and cite examples of Biden’s agenda becoming more radical, to many liberal voters, Biden is reminiscent of the more moderate and level-headed Obama presidency. In addition, Biden used his political experience and charm to convince Americans he was more presidential than his opponent.
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If the alder positions become full-time, elderly candidates would disproportionately benefit, since they would have more free to serve.
While elderly candidates have many advantages which help their chances of success over younger candidates, a serious issue to consider when electing elderly politicians is their vulnerability to significant cognitive decline in later years of life.
This was a major political issue in 1980, when presidential candidate Ronald Reagan was questioned on his mental toughness and he pledged he would resign if a physician detected signs of mental deterioration.
But Reagan never did resign after showing troubling signs his health was deteriorating during his second term and later admitted he suffered from Alzheimer’s.
Similarly today, President Biden is constantly caught misspeaking and losing his train of thought, causing many to question the extent of his cognitive decline.
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Many question Biden’s physical health after he broke his foot while playing with his dog, putting him in a boot for several weeks. Then recently, the President stumbled multiple times while boarding Air Force One.
So, some may question how “fit” our elderly politicians actually are for the offices they hold. There does not seem to be a singular answer, it can vary depending on the candidate. For example, President Reagan survived an assassination attempt and a major surgery during his presidency despite his mental decline.
So while a candidate’s advanced age or struggling health should be considered when choosing who to vote for, it should not always deter someone from voting for that candidate. Our country is run by many older politicians, some with years of experience helping to propel our government to function properly.
But elderly politicians continue to cater most toward their own generation. Older Americans continue to vote more than any age group and will continue to influence federal policy as a powerful voting bloc.
So, if younger people wish to see changes in government policies, they must continue to run in local elections and vote for candidates their age who reflect their generations’ opinions.
Hayden Kolowrat ([email protected]) is a graduate student studying Southeast Asian studies.