18 votes

American Gerontocracy: Typically, congressional representatives are 20 years older than their constituents. We must have lawmakers who look like the people they represent

7 comments

  1. [5]
    onyxleopard
    (edited )
    Link
    I think there’s a danger in ascribing a fallacy of "argument from age", but I also do think that it’s important to have a distribution of seniority in our representatives. There’s equally a...

    I think there’s a danger in ascribing a fallacy of "argument from age", but I also do think that it’s important to have a distribution of seniority in our representatives. There’s equally a fallacy of "argument from youth". I’d prefer representatives be skilled negotiators and intelligent, thoughtful policy wonks, regardless of their age. Congress skewing toward older representatives is also counterbalanced by their staff typically being younger. I am in favor of such a model where staffers learn from more experienced (and by necessity, typically older) congresspeople. I think this is typical of any complex career path—most people can’t just jump into a senior level without experience, and younger people, barring bizarre circumstances, don’t have the experience. It’s possible some of them might be successful, and it might be possible a model that inverts the age gap, where representatives skew younger and their staffers skew older, could work.

    That all said, there is the matter of relative age and cognitive ability (which obviously varies on an individual basis). I was appalled at the very end of the Kavanaugh hearing when the motion was brought up after Flake made his statement to the committee and Feinstein didn’t understand what was going on. She clearly didn’t understand the verbal deal that had been struck, and she appeared to not even understand what she was casting a vote for. I don’t mean to tear Feinstein down; she has had a good career, and I respect her contributions to the Democratic party. But, if you don’t have the ability to process the events going on around you or the procedures unfolding in the committee that you are the ranking member of for your party, you need to step down and let someone take your place who has a more fit mind.

    11 votes
    1. [4]
      Gaywallet
      Link Parent
      How much experience is needed? The average age is currently 59 in congress. If they started their careers in government when they were 20, that's nearly 40 years of service before they can serve...

      I think this is typical of any complex career path—most people can’t just jump into a senior level without experience, and younger people, barring bizarre circumstances, don’t have the experience.

      How much experience is needed? The average age is currently 59 in congress. If they started their careers in government when they were 20, that's nearly 40 years of service before they can serve as a representative.

      Even if they don't start out working a job that's going to get them the experience they need to do a representative's job, we're still likely looking at well over 20 years of relevant experience.

      That seems excessive to me. I'm sure we can find people who have an adequate amount of experience to serve.

      2 votes
      1. [3]
        onyxleopard
        Link Parent
        Well, personally, I don’t like the idea of representatives starting a career in politics in their 20s. Someone interested in politics for its own sake is missing the point. I’d prefer reps to have...

        Well, personally, I don’t like the idea of representatives starting a career in politics in their 20s. Someone interested in politics for its own sake is missing the point. I’d prefer reps to have some experience in the real world first, otherwise, how can they relate to their constituents? In my mind, having a background in law, local government, or some kind of technical field would be ideal before running for congress. So, that means they are probably starting their political career in their 40s. Just my opinion, though.

        1 vote
        1. [2]
          Gaywallet
          Link Parent
          Do you think they need 20 years of experience before being elected?

          Do you think they need 20 years of experience before being elected?

          1 vote
          1. onyxleopard
            Link Parent
            Experience in what? In being a politician in the federal government? For a senior rep, at the level of the senate, I really don’t think that’s an unrealistic expectation.

            Experience in what? In being a politician in the federal government?

            For a senior rep, at the level of the senate, I really don’t think that’s an unrealistic expectation.

            1 vote
  2. nacho
    Link
    Conversely, the make-up of congress aligns much more closely with those who actually vote in elections. Is the problem then really, gerontocracy, or just a natural consequence of non-voting...

    [I]t’s not just leadership that’s graying. The average age of congressional representatives has been increasing since 1981. In 2001, it was 55 years old; in 2011, 58, and in the current Congress, 59. Typically, congressional representatives are 20 years older than their constituents.

    Also vital is the moral dimension: elderly leaders are making decisions for future generations that will have to deal with the consequences of these choices.

    Conversely, the make-up of congress aligns much more closely with those who actually vote in elections. Is the problem then really, gerontocracy, or just a natural consequence of non-voting demography?


    Is gerontocracy a problem in US congress? Is it a big problem?

    How about in local politics where you live?

    What can/should be done?

    Will younger groups voting more actually help with regards to age of representatives?

    Thoughts?

    5 votes
  3. BuckeyeSundae
    Link
    Of all the representative issues that can be legitimately griped about, I don't think that age of politicians is one of them. I would expect the effective politicians to rise up through being...

    Of all the representative issues that can be legitimately griped about, I don't think that age of politicians is one of them. I would expect the effective politicians to rise up through being effective at the state and local levels before you would expect for them to jump to the national level stage. I have no respect at all for political neophytes. And I mean none. To have no experience with the levers of government and then to expect the top job is both arrogant and dangerous, as the already steep learning curve associated with certain positions (POTUS comes to mind) is even steeper with a political neophyte as they engage in all sorts of unforced errors in trying out things that would not have been rewarded if they had been politicians before.

    So I think a bit of allowance should be made for a politician's age compared to their constituent population. That respect takes time to earn, and earning it is the only way forward for most people.

    Instead, it seems there's other, more consequential problems at hand: trust in institutions has continued to erode as people look at the successful representatives and see increasingly only the wealthy doing very well, and that is further eroded by the simultaneous demands on politicians to both do what's best for their constituents to make good livings while not appearing to put corporate interests above the broader public. And we haven't even gotten into the tangle that campaign funding, the distraction of constant fundraising, and the ever increasing ratio of a politician to the number of constituents they are expected to represent. This person wants to complain about age? Pah.

    5 votes