Student Opinion: Voters are gatekeepers for old incumbents

American politicians are old. Our current president is 79 years old and clearly acts like it, while many prominent members of Congress are close to or above that age. We want Americans with experience in Congress, but voters have the responsibility of gatekeeping their representatives’ ages. 

Dianne Feinstein, a senator for California, is 88 years old and still has two more years left on her term. Several colleagues and former staffers do not believe she is fit for office, citing obvious evidence of cognitive decline. The people of California had the obligation to decide whether somebody that old should be in Congress, and the result was an inadequate representative in Congress until at least 2024.

Republicans are not off the hook either. Senator of Iowa Chuck Grassley is 88 years old and running for an eighth term in the U.S. Senate — one he is likely to win.

While cognitive decline of the senator has not been reported, Iowans have the same obligation as those California voters. Not to say that Sen. Grassley is unable to do his job, but age 88 is far from vibrant.

There is a balance between a representative being old while still being effective. Some 80-year-olds in Congress are still incredibly sharp, while others are inefficient or plan on dying in office. Voters must make these decisions instead of asking for term limits.

People keep voting in incumbents every time, allowing their representatives to become career politicians.

According to U.S. Term Limits, an organization advocating for a constitutional amendment on term limits, 82% of Americans are in favor of the idea. But term limiting is clearly not an important objective for the American people because they continue to keep these old incumbents in office.

Elections are supposed to be term limits. I care not for the argument that incumbents raise more money than opponents or that they have the backing of the political elite. If term limits is truly a priority for over 80% of Americans, they would vote out career politicians in elections they have a problem with.

The benefits of term limits are impactful — more competitive elections, younger candidates and less elitism, but we can’t even expect U.S. citizens to vote out people pushing 90. And good luck convincing two-thirds of Congress to agree to the idea via a constitutional amendment on term limits.

There is overwhelming support among American voters for term limiting Congress, yet no one seems to mind when it’s their representative.  

Keaton Browder

On the other hand, a one-size-fits-all age limit seems like a large umbrella, as each representative’s mental capacity is different. Some older members of Congress are still able to effectively do their jobs, and if their constituents want to keep them in office, that should be their choice to make.

An easy and common-sense solution would be to require a cognitive test for people in our government, an idea proposed by Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, a 64-year-old doctor. Our members of Congress should be sentient at the bare minimum, and this proposal is far less of an ask of our legislature. Yet even here, voters should be able to gauge whether their member of Congress is able to carry out their duties, and if not, they get what they vote for.

To be clear, term or age limits are not a bad thing — far from it. But if people keep irresponsibly voting in overstayed incumbents, we can’t just point the finger at Congress. The Constitution doesn’t need changing — the voters do.

We shouldn’t forget that “we the people” are the ones responsible for who we send to Congress. Yes, there are the influential elites in Washington, but we should be more disciplined than to be so easily swayed. While the cons of having an overly experienced representative are clear, it should be up to the constituents to decide who they want representing them in Washington.

Elections have consequences. Many members of Congress are too old because they are who voters have chosen. Voters are responsible for the age of their representative and if they are able to carry out their duties.

If people want change in our government, it starts at the ballot box. 

Browder is the opinion editor. Follow him on Twitter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *