American Gerontocracy II

President-Elect Joe Biden (born November 20, 1942) will celebrate his 78th birthday in a few days. With luck, he’ll be 82 when he completes his first term in office. He will by no means be the oldest of America’s leaders.

POLITICO reports that, despite internecine fighting over the Democrats’ smaller-than-expected victory in the recent elections, Speaker of the House Nancy “Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn” are on “a glidepath to another term atop the House.”

Pelosi (March 26, 1940) will turn 81 shortly into the next Congress.

Hoyer (June 14, 1939) is 81.

Clyburn (July 21, 1940) is 80.

On the Senate side, Mitch McConnell (February 20, 1942) will be a relatively spry 79 shortly into the new Congress. In the longshot eventuality that both Democrats win the run-off in Georgia, he’ll be replaced as Majority Leader by soon-to-be 70 Chuck Schumer (November 23, 1950)—a veritable spring chicken.

In a year when “Okay, Boomer” was a social media putdown, literally all of the above save Schumer are actually from the Silent generation that preceded the Baby Boom.

The historian Ned Richardson-Little notes “We make fun of the gerontocracy in the late Soviet Union, but Brezhnev died at 75, Andropov at 70 and Chernenko at the age of 73. Over in the GDR, Erich Honecker was pushed out at 77 when the Politburo got tired of waiting for him to die.”

As I noted a few months ago, the science of aging would seem to recommend against stacking the leadership with people so old. Still, it’s not obvious what, if anything, we should do about it.

Biden beat a ridiculously large field of contenders for the Democratic nomination and ran a remarkably smooth general election campaign, accomplishing the rare feat of ousting a sitting President. Pelosi is, by all accounts, a damned effective parliamentarian. And, while I very much don’t like his tactics, the same is true of McConnell.

Because I get my news almost exclusively from print these days, I haven’t much insight into Clyburn or Hoyer. Presumably, they have maintained the confidence of Pelosi and their caucus. So, they must be doing something right.

Still, granting that 80 isn’t as old as it used to be, it’s pretty damned old.

FILED UNDER: US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Jay L Gischer says:

    You wrote:

    literally all of the above same Schumer

    but I think you meant “literally all of the above save Schumer”

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  2. Jay L Gischer says:

    Yeah, Mitch McConnell has earned a place in history for the changes he has wrought in how the Senate operates. And he might not be done yet.

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  3. Sleeping Dog says:

    The one thing that Rs did right when they controlled the House, was to enforce term limits on committee chairs. Often when a chair was reached his/her limit, they retired, particularly when they went into the minority. A rigid seniority system only serves only the congress critter.

    At least one of the three, Pelosi, Hoyer or Clyburn should step aside so a younger member can join the leadership.

    @James, indeed the US government sort of looks like the Politburo circa 1970.

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  4. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    Forget term limits-how about an amendment to add age limits? We already have minimums–maximums seem just fine to me.

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  5. Andy says:

    As I noted a few months ago, the science of aging would seem to recommend against stacking the leadership with people so old. Still, it’s not obvious what, if anything, we should do about it.

    Not sure there’s anything we can do since rules in both the House and Senate privilege seniority and both chambers make their own rules. You’d need some kind of revolution from junior members and that doesn’t seem at all likely. And for House seats, state legislatures will make sure their most influential representatives will have a district they can’t lose.

    In the Senate this system penalizes purple states because there is much more turnover preventing Senators from those states being in office long enough to build seniority and get old. My home state of Colorado, for example, hasn’t had a 3-term Senator since the 1950’s.

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  6. al Ameda says:

    I personally think Democrats are going to have ‘mandatory change’ shoved down their throats after the 2022 mid term elections.

    Chuck Schumer? I do not consider, even with the unfvorable political math of the Senate, Schumer to be an effective leader. He was a solid senator but he does not project strength in leadership both internally and externally with his image to the electorate. I would make the change now – maybe Sheldon Whitehouse or Amy Klobuchar? Cory Booker? I don’t know.

    The House? I think Democrats should take the chance and make the change from Pelosi to Hakeem Jeffries now.

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  7. Jen says:

    A friend of mine has been saying for months that coronavirus is a national security issue for this very reason. It seems like quite a bad idea to have most of leadership squarely in the highest risk category.

    It doesn’t bode well for succession plans either, to not see more younger faces in leadership positions.

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  8. Kathy says:

    “We make fun of the gerontocracy in the late Soviet Union, but Brezhnev died at 75, Andropov at 70 and Chernenko at the age of 73.

    What’s funny is all of them died of old age related issues.

    Not that I disagree, but there can’t be no hard and fast rules. People age differently, and not all of them experience cognitive decline. I know people well under 60 whom I wouldn’t trust with anything more valuable than a stick of gum, too.

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  9. Slugger says:

    I favor upper age limits on national leaders, but an American 80 year old has a median of nine years. I’m in my mid seventies, and I should have been nicer to people when I was younger.

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  10. Jim Brown 32 says:

    Democrats have needed new leadership in the House and Senate in my book since 2014. But whatever–the same “county over party” people can’t seem to put their own party over their individual power within it. Long overdue for new blood preferably for the midwest and the south where they need to outflank the Republican party with a small margin to kneecap them.

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  11. Michael Reynolds says:

    How about we just do cognitive tests? We’re not going to get rid of every other form of discrimination and then go after old people, it won’t fly. But cognitive decline is a thing. Get a baseline when they come in, make it a mandatory part of a yearly check-up. If we’re transparent with a president’s health, why not these people?

    @Jim Brown 32:
    I’ve been thinking about how to reach the rural voters. I think it has to be a single issue, not the whole Democratic laundry list. One thing. I don’t know what that one thing is but there’s a space involving free medical and free drug and alcohol treatment, with a build-up of facilities, and a localized jobs component, maybe, somewhere in there. If the carrot is big and juicy enough they may take a bite.

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  12. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Rural voters are like ugly people 5 minutes before the nightclub closes. They’re going home with whoever pays attention to them.

    Trump paid attention to them when no-one, not Republicans, not Democrats paid them any attention. I would agree that we’re not talking about giving them the choicest seats on the Democrat train. They are only looking to peel off a margin–which is what Trump tried to do. He wasn’t opening up the MAGA train to all “teh blacks”–just enough to reduce his loss margin around the cities and suburbs and allow his rural advantage to kick in.

    Heretofore the Feds have pumped money into alot these communities via Military Bases and Prisons–things associated with Republicans. They need to find a vehicle to inject money that has a more Democratic Party association which is why I’d recommend they go for something more WPA style to update these rural areas–Roads, Bridges, Airports, Broadband, etc. I’d target Red & Blue states where the margins were less than 7&8 percent like AZ, GA, FL, OH, NC, NV

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  13. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Hmmmm, I noticed Mitch is missing.

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  14. Matt says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    Trump paid attention to them when no-one, not Republicans, not Democrats paid them any attention.

    Indeed Trump promised them rainbow farting unicorns and they bought it hook line and sinker. The rural people still with Trump are those who vote GOP because their parents and pastors voted GOP. Some of them voted GOP last week and this week are posting facebook memes asking for things the GOP is against and the Democratic party is actively fighting for… Reality just does not penetrate their bubble. Whenever I point out that they are asking for Democratic policies they respond with baby killers or some other insane shit like that…

  15. Matt says:

    @Matt: Also in case you were wondering Jim that does include a couple racist bible thumpers. The majority of the racists I know who use the bible to justify their hatred of the “other” (blacks browns gays bis etc) believe in the gun toting lily white libertarian Jesus. So they don’t want to help the fetus/baby/kid in any form but they do love to scream baby killer when a 3 cell organism is aborted… Fcking Reagan and his deal with the devil…

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  16. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    How about we just do cognitive tests? We’re not going to get rid of every other form of discrimination and then go after old people, it won’t fly. But cognitive decline is a thing. Get a baseline when they come in, make it a mandatory part of a yearly check-up.

    This is certainly more plausible than restoring mandatory retirement ages. Then again, it’s unfair to the smart. Even in decline, they’re going to be more mentally competent than, say, Donald Trump.

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  17. James Joyner says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Hmmmm, I noticed Mitch is missing.

    Missing what?

  18. Jax says:

    @James Joyner: A soul? Any sense of empathy or compassion? The list goes on and on as to what Moscow Mitch is missing. 😉

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  19. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Matt: Unfortunately for those Racist Bible-Thumper types–I know the Bible alot better than they do. Of course, they can’t be persuaded, but they quickly understand they are ill equipped to defend their positions when you start throwing out all the scriptures that contradict their view. Especially the Levitical law that prescribes a fine for a person that causes a pregnant mother to miscarry–rather than death for the causing a person to die.

    Most of these people are simply misled and have boxed themselves into the position (unhistorical btw) that he Bible is the literal, inerrant Word of God. It is exactly the wrong box to be in to make use of the Bible use of paradox to force the reader to think deeply about spirituality. All paradoxes can be resolved–but not if you are trapped in a worldview of the Bible as literal history. As long as they aren’t harming people–I do pity them.

  20. Matt says:

    @Jim Brown 32: I have straight up quoted the bible word for word and they still argue that I don’t truly understand it or that I’m distorting what it means or I’m taking it out of context. They also love to claim I’m not a true believer and thus I’m not allowed to quote the bible. There’s always an excuse for why their belief in what the bible says is right regardless of what the bible actually says. One of them unfriended me a couple months ago because of my bible quoting. It’s a lot like when a racist calls black people n*****s and when you point out that they are being racist they scream “YOU’RE THE RACIST!!” back at you… A whole section of the USA is completely deluded and have no interest in reality or facts.

    God bless you for trying man.

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