Thursday, June 17, 2021

Too Old?

The Washington Post seems to be concerned about the ages of United States Senators.

In a March 5, 2021 opinion commentary Kathleen Parker argued that the Senate was showing its age and that term limits should be considered to bring more youthful perspectives to that elected body.

The average age of a United States Senator in the 116th Congress is 62.9 years. This compares to an average age of 57.6 years in the House of Representatives. That is a five year difference.

These are the ages of the current Senators who are over 80.

Diane Feinstein (D-CA)  88 (as of June 22, 2021)

Richard Shelby (R-AL)   87

Chuck Grassley (R-IA)   87

Jim Inhofe (R-OK)         86

Patrick Leahy (D-VT)    81

The terms of Shelby, Grassley and Leahy end in 2022. Feinstein's term expires in 2024. Inhofe was just re-elected and his term expires in 2026.

Shelby has announced he will not seek re-election. Leahy has indicated he will seek a ninth term next year. Grassley has not yet announced his plans.

The Founding Fathers of the United States clearly wanted the Senate to be the "senior" body in the legislative branch. It was fully intended and expected that its members would be older than in the House of Representatives.

The intent and rationale that the Senate was established in the manner it was are detailed in Federalist Papers #62 and #63. The Founders wanted Senators to have more life experience and they wanted it to be a more deliberative body than the House.

These are direct quotes from Federalist #62 written by James Madison.

The qualifications proposed for senators, as distinguished from those of representatives, consist in a more advanced age, and a longer period of citizenship. A senator must be thirty years of age at least; as a representative, must be twenty-five. And the former must have been a citizen nine years; as seven years are required for the latter. The propriety of these distinctions is explained by the nature of the senatorial trust; which requiring greater extent of information and stability of character, requires at the same time that the senator should have reached a period of life most likely to supply these advantages.

It is interesting to note that the minimum age set in the Constitution for a Senator is 5 years more than for a member of the House.

Look again at the difference in average ages of Senators and House members in 2021.

It is exactly 5 years. 

Yes, there are a few Senators that look to be past their prime. However, aren't the voters in Vermont, California or Iowa in the best position to determine whether their Senator is able to represent their best interests in the voting booth?

It is also interesting to note that the Constitution as it originally was written left it to the state legislatures in the various states to elect Senators from their states. Direct election of Senators did not take place until after the 17th Amendment was ratified in 1913.

I have to believe that if this provision was still in place it would be much more likely that older Senators would not retain their seats. 

It should be noted that while the average age of our elected representatives has gotten older over the years, so has the average age of Americans.

In the early 1800's the average age of a Senator was 50 years of age. The average age of the American public was less than 20 years of age. This made the average Senator 2.5x older than the average citizen.

Today the age gap is much smaller. In fact, The Washington Post highlighted this fact in a chart about ten years ago.

Source: The Washington Post, 2014

The age ratios in 2021 are almost exactly the same as they were in 2011.

If Senators are getting older it is because everyone is getting older.

It also is the case that Senators are actually closer in age to their constituents today than they were at the time of the nation's founding.

It is not coincidental that the Senate is subject to these types of criticisms when liberals are not getting their way as we are seeing right now in our senior legislative body on voting rights, infrastructure, tax increases, packing the Supreme Court and the filibuster.

How often do we hear that the Senate is out of step or its rules are outmoded? How often do we hear that it is "not fair" that the smaller states have the same number of Senators as the larger states? How often do we hear that the Senate is subverting the will of the people?

Of course, the Founders anticipated all of this. In fact, they designed the Senate to work exactly this way. It is another example of their brilliance in constructing our method of governance.

First, it must be remembered that the Founders objective was to create a United STATES of America. Those states were considered to be independent and sovereign states bound together in a common league. The people received their voice in government through proportional representation in the House. The states were to receive their voice at the federal level in equal representation in the Senate.

From Federalist #92.

The parties however unequal in size, ought to have an equal share in the common councils, it does not appear to be without some reason, that in a compound republic partaking both of the national and federal character, the government ought to be founded on a mixture of the principles of proportional and equal representation. 

In this spirit it may be remarked, that the equal vote allowed to each state, is at once a constitutional recognition of the portion of sovereignty remaining in the individual states, and an instrument for preserving that residuary sovereignty. So far the equality ought to be no less acceptable to the large than to the small states; since they are not less solicitous to guard by every possible expedient against an improper consolidation of the states into one simple republic.

The Founders also believed that it was important to have a legislative body that would also not get swept up in the passions of the moment. 

They might have been thinking about a House that wanted to rewrite all the elections laws or to pack the Supreme Court.

The necessity of a senate is not less indicated by the propensity of all single and numerous assemblies, to yield to the impulse of sudden and violent passions, and to be seduced by factious leaders, into intemperate and pernicious resolutions. Examples on this subject might be cited without number; and from proceedings within the United States, as well as from the history of other nations. But a position that will not be contradicted need not be proved. All that need be remarked is that a body which is to correct this infirmity ought itself be free from it, and consequently ought to be less numerous. It ought moreover to possess great firmness, and consequently ought to hold its authority by a tenure of considerable duration.

It has become a popular narrative on the left to deride the Founders as a bunch of old, white men who were not interested in anything beyond preserving their privilege and perpetuating a racist society.

Of course, this narrative omits the fact that the Founders of the United States initiated a system of self-governance by the people that became a model for the rest of the world. It gave the People the power to control their own destiny like no other nation in the history of mankind.

Our Founders, through that Constitution, has also allowed us to enjoy the longest period of governmental stability in the world. None of the other nations who participated in the G-7 this week have had longer lasting governmental systems in place than the United States. The same goes for other countries that were not there, such as China and Russia.

As much as we want to think that we have evolved as people, when reading Federalist #42 and the other Federalist Papers we can see we have not changed one iota.  Our Founders understood our flaws, fallibilities and failings. Even more importantly, they understood that combining these human weaknesses with someone who wielded the power of government was particularly dangerous.

Our Constitution was intended to provide the protections for us to survive the "bad actors" and the "bad times".  Our Founders could not prevent them from taking office but they designed a system to limit their individual power through checks and balances

Leftists always seem to want to find fault in our Constitution. They like to say it is old and outdated.

They would be wise to focus on the genius in the document and learn to work within its construct.

There has been no better governing document in the history of mankind.

The only thing that is old is hearing them complain about it.

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