The recent mid-term elections in the United States raised a question with me about age limits for political representatives at all levels. A minimum age would seem to be a sensible idea. Equally, an upper age limit would also seem to be a logical requirement.
Obviously, there are some “kid wonders” and “lively octogenarians” out there but you can’t design a government system based on the exceptions. The competence age of the average-level citizen should be the determining factor, at least logically. It doesn’t seem to work that way at present.
The criteria of experience would also seem to be a sensible idea. What age is too young and, at what stage does old age out-weigh experience. Ninety-one years old obviously gives you great experience but can the average person actually function in a political position at that age? Again, there may be people who can, but most can’t.
I did a little research. The oldest member of the U.S. Congress is 89 (actually, there are two 89-year-olds: Dianne Feinstein (California) and Chuck Grassley (Iowa). The youngest member, elected this week, is 25, the minimum age by current law. The youngest ever was William Cole Claiborne, who was elected to Congress in 1797 at the tender age of 22.
To my slight amazement, the minimum age for a Member of Parliament in the U.K. is 18. You have to be kidding, I hear you say, but I’m not. I can’t seem to find a maximum age. The House of Lords, in the U.K. has no age limit and, for years, comedians have ridiculed its members sleeping peacefully in their assigned seats. I’m sure, over the years, some have actually died in their seats…..and no-one noticed….at least for a while.
Members of the U.S. Supreme Court are appointed for life and many have died in office. Others have, and are, waiting until they are over 90 before considering retirement.
The current leadership in Washington is geriatric, which is in great contrast to the U.K., where the new Prime Minister is 42. I should add that the democratic leadership has just changed, which has lopped twenty years off their average age.
It’s a difficult balance. You need enough years to have gained sufficient experience to make sensible and informed decisions for your constituents, whether they be your local council or your country. However, waiting until senility, when your age overtakes your experience makes no sense. Attempting to become a representative at a young age takes great audacity, and giving up at the right time takes great humility. Neither characteristic seems to be in plentiful supply in their respective categories.
I therefore propose the following for consideration:
U.S. House of Representatives: Eligible age range 35-70.
U.S. Senate: Age Range: 50-75.
U.K. Member of Parliament: Age range 35-70.
U.K. House of Lords: Age range 40-75 (the rules about hereditary peerages would have to change).
I think the same should apply to State elected officials in the U.S. and local council members in the U.S. and the U.K.
Elected officials are there to serve the people who elected them. They are not there to represent their own pet missions. That requires a certain level of perspective and experience. It also requires judgement, ethics and integrity, as well as mental capacity for the job. It is up to us, as citizens, to require those traits in our representatives and not elect anyone who doesn’t exhibit them. Age limits would definitely help.