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Senility System

The conviction of Senator Ted Stevens has highlighted one of the unspoken problems of the US Senate. The pictures of Sen. Stevens, the longest serving Republican Senator ever, have shown a rather pathetic senior citizen fighting a battle against what appears to be reality. There’s little doubt that he’s way past his prime, which is what the problem is in the Senate as a whole. It’s not that they are all corrupt, it’s that some of them are surprisingly old.

The average (mean) and the median age in the Senate is 64, about the time most people who have a fully loaded 401(k) think about retirement. Since no one has that as an option anymore, the fact that fully 50 of them are older than that and still working is not a surprise. Generationally, this means that about half of the Senate are “Traditionals”, half are “Baby Boomers”, and none are “Gen-X” or younger.

Sen. Ted Stevens, at 84 years old, is not the oldest member. That distinction goes to Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who is 91 years old. Every day he sets a new record for the longest Senate term ever, one that will hit 50 years on 3 January. In fact, 8 current Senators weren’t even born when he started serving.

The youngest is Sen. John Sununu of New Hampshire at 44. The fact that he’s only 2 years older than I am makes me wonder where I went wrong, at least until I remember that my father wasn’t a Senator – then it all becomes clear. The oldest woman is Sen. Diane Feinstein, who turned 75 this year.

Is there a problem with having a Senate that is experienced and posses the wisdom of age? Not when I put it like that, of course. But when you see and hear Sen. Stevens on the teevee it’s important to remember that there are 5 Senators who are over the age of 80, meaning that they probably are also a bit past their prime. Another 21 are between 70 and 80 years old. That’s not a problem as long as there is someone in their life to tell them when it’s time to go, but who can tell a Senator what to do? They tend to be driven, egocentric men who enjoy their power. Quit? Not until they’re dead!

Or, in the case of Sen. Stevens, convicted.

This election will, of course, change the outlook of the Senate. There are 35 seats up (more than 33 due to retirement) and 37 if the Obama-Biden ticket prevails. It’s very likely to get quite a bit younger, at least for a few years.

While we’re about to enjoy a major generational change in our President, it’s important to know that the Senate will not change overnight. It’s not supposed to, after all. What remains to be seen is whether this is a force for stabilization or a force that stifles needed change. They don’t all look as pathetic as Sen. Stevens, but there are a few that we might want to keep an eye on.

For giggles, I thought I’d try my first podcast experiment with this (short) piece. Click the “play” arrow below to hear me read this work.

5 thoughts on “Senility System

  1. The observation you make points out a problem that needs to be looked at. The longer people serve the more they become part of the system as opposed to be being representatives of the people.
    The system rewards longevity rather then knowledge. Commitee chairs are the longest serving of the majority party rather then the best qualified in an given area. This is remedied by term limits.
    The founding fathers wanted elected officials to serve and then go back to thier lives not be life long politicians. Let allow people to serve 2 terms in office at any level with no limit on the number of different offices they could hold. We may still have 80 year old politicians but at most they would be serving thier second term in that office.

  2. Allow an opposing view view to Brian’s: The framers of the Constitution did not include term limits, and if I recall correctly, Republicans began the idea as a result of FDR’s four terms as President–and they succeeded–to their great regret shortly thereafter with the Presidency of Dwight Eisenhower, and even later with Ronald Reagan. In my opinion, term limits should be the sole province of the voters.

  3. I thought about term limits as a solution, but I have to say that I only consider them in the bigger picture of campaign finance and so on. There’s clearly a problem in the Senate as it gets older, but it may correct itself through natural means. If it doesn’t, perhaps we can find other ways of not just limiting the power of incumbency but also encouraging new voices of all kinds.

    If that fails, I’m not opposed to term limits. I’d like it to be the last recourse, but honestly, Ted Stevens hasn’t done anyone much good in a long time.

  4. The built-in advantage of incumbency is a big problem, preventing natural turnover. I would prefer a campaign financing solution instead of term limits. ALAS, the real solution is the voters, but too many are of the low-information voter category.

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    and speacially i want to earn money as a parttime can you help me by this………

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