June 18, 2024

How Old is Too Old for Public Service?

Noting the minimum age criteria for the U.S.’s important elected offices, David Harsanyi of the Denver Post wonders if there shouldn’t be a maximum age limit placed on persons in positions of power and holds up one of the Congress’ most conspicuous incompetents as his straw man:

An average adult would not trust Sen. Robert Byrd (who is 91) to pet-sit their mutt for fear that the unfortunate creature might accidentally turn up in chili con carne. Yet, Byrd sits on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, where he doles out massive amounts of taxpayer funds for West Virginia landmarks with "Byrd" in the title.

It’s a question that needs to be asked, particularly in conjunction with the issue of term limits, and it deserves a serious answer rather than boilerplate P.C. nonsense about ageism.  How old is too old? 

It depends.  But there comes a point in time after which wisdom turns to dotage and public service should be ended before the decline begins.  Unfortunately, the current party and power system doesn’t readily allow over-the-hill incumbents like Byrd, Stevens, and Dingell to be replaced without their consent.

Part of wisdom is knowing when to quit.  We see the proof of this all time time in the world of sports.  Michael Jordan knew when to leave the game behind; Evander Holyfield still doesn’t know that he’s been done for 5+ years.  It’s the same way with political heroes too.  The difference is that Supreme Court justices and senators who linger in their fiefdoms do more than tarnish their personal legacies.  Great damage can be done to the country by their refusal to make way for new, more capable leadership.

A mandatory age limit is too general because it disqualifies perfectly fit candidates from holding important positions.  But as Byrd’s tenure demonstrates, a limit of some kind is needed. 

Again and again I return to term limits as a tool to resolve conflicts such as this.  Somehow we need to make them reality.


Marc is a software developer, writer, and part-time political know-it-all who currently resides in Texas in the good ol' U.S.A.

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