Skip to main content

Adrienne Lawrence

Legal analyst, law professor & award-winning author

Share
Opinion

Some lawmakers are just too old to effectively do their jobs

Sep 13, 2023

Share

Adrienne Lawrence

Legal analyst, law professor & award-winning author

Share

Commercial pilots face mandatory retirement at 67. Foreign Service employees at the State Department are forced to retire at 65. Why, then, don’t members of Congress face mandatory retirement after a certain age? As some senior lawmakers grapple with health issues in public and with at least 20 members of Congress aged 80 or older, it prompts a debate about whether the time has come for change.

Straight Arrow News contributor Adrienne Lawrence expresses concerns regarding our older leaders’ abilities to effectively perform their duties, particularly in light of new legislation addressing modern topics such as TikTok bans and AI.

Our future is being decided and guided by a gaggle of people who predate the invention of bubble wrap. A significant number of our leaders have had early adulthood shaped by post-World War II American exceptionalism. They know what it’s like to have affordable housing, good jobs and daily life without mass shootings. But my God, they cannot relate to the lives and the needs of a solid percentage of Americans today. 

We see the age disparity play out at congressional hearings all the time. Between potential TikTok bans and conversations about AI, the culture has shifted and evolved such that many of our leaders are often wholly unfamiliar and totally detached from matters upon which they must decide. We deserve leadership that connects with the existing and evolving culture in a way of life that reflects us all. 

They need to have the capacity to shape the future for all Americans. Yes, all. That’s why I’m not saying members of the Silent Generation should stay silent in Congress or that the boomers need to back out of the three branches. No, their voices are important and also their presence is essential, as they too represent generations of a number of Americans. But what I am saying is that we need age limits and better efforts to ensure that we have representation in government that reflects we the people, because when it comes to leadership, age is far more than just a number.

Like boxer Rocky Marciano, Father Time is undefeated. We can’t escape the fact that age comes for all of us, regardless of gender, race, class, and so on. Yet for some reason, we’re dodging serious conversations about the aging leadership in our country. We must confront the reality that the United States needs more than just term limits for those occupying the three branches of government. Even though we know that judiciary gets a pass. 

 

For the sake of our future, we must set age limits and invest in greater representation of age groups in our government. This is necessary and it’s not a matter of ageism, or partisanship. This is a matter of democracy and common sense. With age comes a host of issues that can impact one’s intellectual and physical abilities. Not necessarily, no, but by and large, yes. If age weren’t an issue, then Congress wouldn’t mandate that pilots and Foreign Service Workers retire at 65. Numerous states like Minnesota and Maryland, Florida, Michigan, wouldn’t require judges to retire at 70. The FBI would allow 40 year olds to sign up as agents but they don’t. 

 

Age limits matter for professions that have an important impact on society. Why not set age limits for those leading our government then? We can’t ignore that a certain level of physical and intellectual stamina, and rigor for that matter, is required to lead in government. It’s not a lax job, attending hearings and meetings, reviewing cases or constituent concerns, advancing or drafting legislation, executive orders, opinions, traveling to Washington, navigating complex issues and so forth. No matter the branch, the business is stressful. It has an impact on the mind and the body. 

 

The American people should know that their leadership can handle it. We shouldn’t have to watch 81 year old Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, continue to freeze on live TV and then try to gaslight us about his health. Judicial Appointments shouldn’t be stalled because 90 year old Senator Dianne Feinstein is clearly suffering from such mental decline that she can’t even vote on the nominees. 

 

Not only are age limits imperative for the effectiveness of our government, but also prioritizing issues of age is also essential to reflect our nation. The average American is 38 years old, the average Congress person 60, Supreme Court Justice 64, leading presidential candidate 78. That means the average leader or prospective leader in the three branches of government is 67 years old, three decades older than the average American. 

 

Our future is being decided and guided by a gaggle of people who predate the invention of bubble wrap. A significant number of our leaders have had early adulthood shaped  by post World War Two American exceptionalism. They know what it’s like to have affordable housing, good jobs and daily life without mass shootings. But my God, they cannot relate to the lives and the needs of a solid percentage of Americans today. 

 

We see the age disparity play out at congressional hearings all the time. Between potential tick tock bans and conversations about AI, the culture has shifted and evolved such that many of our leaders are often wholly unfamiliar and totally detached from matters upon which they must decide. We deserve leadership that connects with the existing and evolving culture in a way of life that reflects us all. 

 

They need to have the capacity to shape the future for all Americans. Yes, all. That’s why I’m not saying members of the silent generation should stay silent in Congress or that the boomers need to back out of the three branches. No, their voices are important and also their presence is essential as they too represent generations of a number of Americans. But what I am saying is that we need age limits and better efforts to ensure that we have representation in government that reflects we the people because when it comes to leadership, age is far more than just a number

More from Adrienne Lawrence

Latest Commentary

We know it is important to hear from a diverse range of observers on the complex topics we face and believe our commentary partners will help you reach your own conclusions.

The commentaries published in this section are solely those of the contributors and do not reflect the views of Straight Arrow News.


Latest Opinions

In addition to the facts, we believe it’s vital to hear perspectives from all sides of the political spectrum. We hope these different voices will help you reach your own conclusions.

The opinions published in this section are solely those of the contributors and do not reflect the views of Straight Arrow News.

Weekly Voices

Left Opinion Right Opinion

Wednesday

Left Opinion Right Opinion

Thursday

Left Opinion Right Opinion

Friday

Left Opinion Right Opinion