You hear it all the time: politicians are too old, Joe Biden shouldn’t run again, Mitch McConnell should resign. After all, Congress is the oldest it’s ever been with the median age of the House of Representatives being 58 and of the Senate being 65. Not to mention, baby boomers and the silent generation make up 54% of all elected officials in Congress. Elected officials on Capitol Hill have always been older than the average American. However, while the average age of Congress increases, the age of freshmen has gone down, a result of politician’s reluctance to retire.
So, it’s undeniable that Congress is old. But how old is too old? And where do we draw the line? If you ask the average member of Gen Z, they’ll be the first to tell us that politicians are too old. But in and of itself, this fact shouldn’t – and hasn’t – been disqualifying. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Joe Biden – the top three contenders for the Democratic Party’s nomination in 2020 – were all above the age of 70. Not to mention, the preferred candidate of those under the age of 35 – Bernie Sanders – was the oldest of the bunch. It seems that age is a problem for certain candidates: Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConell. But not others: Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. So why do we, as a generation, excuse age for some candidates and use it to crucify others?
In objective terms, Joe Biden is the most progressive president since Lyndon B Johnson. President Biden has lowered the cost of prescription drugs, passed climate change legislation, passed the only piece of gun control legislation this century, and canceled student loans (before the Supreme Court dismantled most of the program). Not to mention, President Biden is the only U.S. President in 100 years to walk a picket line. So, if you call yourself a progressive and want a president focused on the problems facing future generations, you should be ecstatic with Joe Biden. In fact, you should be the first person in the voting booth. The ballot should rip with the force of your pen filling in the bubble next to his name.
Yet, Joe Biden is facing significant challenges with young voters who think he is too old for office. Americans, especially young people, are angry. They don’t think the system works in their favor any more. Millennials were the first generation who would have a harder time economically than their parents – a path Gen Z are forcefully following. Republicans have overturned the right to make your own health decisions, climate change isn’t slowing down, we can’t stop shooting deaths, we can’t fix our immigration system, we can’t even wear a mask to protect each other. We are utterly rudderless in a moment that calls for an all-out, monumental change. And when we look at our elected officials, what do we see but a group largely content with the status quo? The divide between young and old generations doesn’t seem to be one defined by age per se, but a different reality.
Many baby boomers and silent generation politicians have also suffered terrible times. Imagine being born during World War II, living through the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, fear of nuclear war, oil crises, 9/11 and a pandemic, and being told by young people that they have it super hard. It’s fair to see that many politicians who have spent the last 20 years in Congress may believe that this moment in history is no different than the past challenges the nation has faced. The issue with these politicians doesn’t lie necessarily in their age but in their perspective. How does anyone who cares about climate change, extremism, and human rights persuade the people in Congress that this moment in history is unique and requires big change – not empty promises?
The focus on politician’s age is a dumbed-down version of a bigger problem – many of them are painfully out of touch with young Americans. But fixing this problem isn’t easy. Young people are cynical and unengaged when it comes to politics. And electing young officials alone won’t fix this problem. There are countless examples of millennial senators and representatives steadfastly refusing to engage in serious policy negotiations. Some are just in it for the power and fame.
For those interested in changing politician’s minds, it may be useful to take a step back from age and look at who can be persuaded. Because age alone isn’t making politicians out of touch. They think young people won’t vote and don’t care about politics. If we can change that – we have a chance to pass legislation that affects young people the most.
Senior Olivia Deleen is a contributing writer. Her email is email@example.com.