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Ruben Navarrette

Columnist, host & author

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Opinion

Mandatory retirement for older politicians is long overdue

Aug 08, 2023

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Ruben Navarrette

Columnist, host & author

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At the age of 80, President Joe Biden holds the distinction of being the oldest president to serve in the White House, a fact that has sparked apprehension across the electorate. This concern extends to other politicians, as various members of Congress have displayed visible signs of aging, including instances of stumbling, hesitating in front of cameras and exhibiting confusion during crucial votes.

Straight Arrow News contributor Ruben Navarrette calls for the implementation of an age limit for politicians and has a mandatory retirement age in mind that he believes hits the sweet spot.

The same legislative body that sets mandatory retirement ages for air traffic controllers, 56, FBI agents, 57, Foreign Service employees, 65, and commercial pilots, 67, shies away from doing the same for themselves. And what exactly is wrong with setting a mandatory retirement age for members of Congress — in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, as well as for cabinet officials, the vice president and, well, the president? Nothing, not a thing, it’s a great idea. Long overdue. 

Pick a number — let’s say 70 for each of the above positions. So if you want to serve in the legislative or executive branch, that’s awesome. Just get it wrapped up by 70, and then go on your way and enjoy your retirement.

It should not have come to this. People should use common sense and good judgment and know when it’s time to hang up their cleats. But the reason we’re here, and that it has come to this, is because some members of the Silent Generation won’t go quietly into that good night. That’s the generation before the baby boomers, the 69 million Americans who never get tired of patting themselves on the back for ending the Vietnam War.

How old is too old to be an elected official in America? Welcome to the touchiest of subjects. The one topic that most politicians in Washington won’t dare go anywhere near. Members of Congress always stick their noses into our personal lives, but they would really appreciate it if we just butted the heck out of theirs. 

 

The same legislative body that sets mandatory retirement ages for air traffic controllers, 56, FBI agents, 57, Foreign Service employees, 65, and commercial pilots, 67, shies away from doing the same for themselves. And what exactly is wrong with setting a mandatory retirement age for members of Congress? In both the House of Representatives and the Senate, as well as for cabinet officials, the vice president and, well, the president. Nothing, not a thing, it’s a great idea. Long overdue. 

 

Pick a number — let’s say 70 for each of the above positions. So if you want to serve in the Legislative or Executive Branch, that’s awesome. Just get it wrapped up by 70, and then go on your way and enjoy your retirement. It should not have come to this. People should use common sense and good judgment and know when it’s time to hang up their cleats. But the reason we’re here and that it has come to this is because some members of the silent generation won’t go quietly into that good night. That’s the generation before the baby boomers, the 69 million Americans who never get tired of patting themselves on the back for ending the Vietnam War. 

 

The boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, are now in their 60s and 70s. The silent generation, born between 1928 and 1945, is now mostly in their 80s and 90s. As a member of Generation X — the latchkey kids who let ourselves into the house after school, made a snack and flipped on the television to watch episodes of The Brady Bunch until mom and dad came home — we were born between 1965 and 1980, which puts us now in our 40s and 50s. As an Xer, I always knew that one day we were going to need blasting caps and a massive crane to pry baby boomers out of the corner office. But what I did not see coming was that boomers would themselves have such a tough time coaxing the silence into retirement, at least in politics. 

 

That’s what’s happening now, though, thanks to a couple of uncomfortable episodes involving senior citizen politicians, one from each party — this issue now is finally on the table. How old is too old? Republicans are dealing with the fallout from a frightening video of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is 81, freezing up for about 20 seconds in front of television cameras. Democrats are struggling with another clip, which surfaced the other day of Senator Dianne Feinstein, who’s 90, appearing confused when asked to vote during a committee hearing. 

 

There’s little doubt that Republicans want to bid farewell to McConnell and Democrats would love to throw a retirement party for Feinstein. But no one has the guts to force the issue and force these two out the door. And what about the big guy? At 80, President Biden is already the oldest president to ever sit in the White House. And it appears he’s vying for a second term, at the end of which Biden would be 86. Still, anytime anyone brings up Biden’s age, they’re accused by Democrats of ageism. 

 

Biden does have one defender — oddly enough, it’s his possible opponent, former president and current GOP nomination front runner, Donald Trump. He says Biden’s age should not be an issue. Of course Trump is right behind Biden at 77. Let’s get real: politics is a young person’s game and the cutoff to play it should be 70. We’re all thinking it, we can’t be afraid to say it and now we just have to make it happen.

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