Age Is Just A Number-- That Is Much Higher In American Politics
Call it American Gothic 2019.
On Tuesday, 72-year-old president Donald Trump addressed the nation from the White House. He was followed by 78-year-old Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, and 68-year-old Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer delivering a rebuttal.
When they were done, the TV networks rushed to interview 76-year-old Mitch McConnell, Majority Senate Leader, and 84-year-old Democrat senior Dianne Feinstein. These ages are not exceptional on Capitol Hill. One could mistake the entire American political establishment for the cast of the film Cocoon.
Vermont senator Patrick Leahy has served 43 years in Congress. Iowa senator Chuck Grassley has held his position for 38 years. Former senator Joe Biden wants to be president in 2020 at the age of 78. If Hillary Clinton comes back she’ll be 73. Senator Elizabeth Warren will be 71 in 2020. They are hardly unique. America is run by your grandparents.
One wonders when such people might think their legacies are secure enough to retire. Don’t they have grandchildren to spoil and barge cruises to take? Apparently not.
With so many golden agers at the heart of government it’s no wonder U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Francis Rooney have introduced an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to impose term limits on members of Congress. The amendment would limit U.S. senators to two six-year terms and members of the U.S. House of Representatives to three two-year terms.
What makes the decrepitude of American government striking is its contrast with Canadian politics. While Canada has a handful of long-serving parliamentarians, what strikes an observer is the callow nature of its leadership. Prime minister Justin Trudeau is 47, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh is 40 and Conservative leader Andrew Scheer is 39. (Yes, Green supremo Elizabeth May is 64, but she was born in the United States.)
A quick perusal of Trudeau’s cabinet shows a handful of Ottawa veterans like Ralph Goodale, and Lawence MacCaulay, but most of his ministers are sub-50 types. Since Jean Chretien retired, the prime minister’s age has been dropping with no sign of any golden agers making an incursion into the job. Stephen Harper was just 47 when he began his 11-year run as PM. Trudeau was 44.
In the provinces, age is a tad better served in the premier’s chair, but you’ll look long and hard to find a septuagenarian in their number. As creepy as American politics has become, Canadian politics is downright juvenile.
Why the contrast?
One principal reason for people serving till they drop may be that power in America is spread more evenly than in Canada. The tripartite form of government that balances the three branches means a Congress person like Pelosi can be determining policy even as she heads to her ninth decade. Look at how she’s standing down Trump on his wall. Imagine a single MP doing this.
More U.S. politicians can have a real impact even if one isn’t in the executive branch of service. For egotistical politicians (I repeat myself) the sense of self worth is far more fulfilling in America than what is experienced by a Canadian MOP.
In Canada, power has become so concentrated in the Prime Minister’s Office that members of Parliament have largely been reduced to rubber stamps for the policies of the prime minister. Even cabinet ministers have much less latitude than they once did. Who wants to sit in the back benches for 40 years voting “yea” like a parrot?
As well, Canada’s penchant for kale-smoothie liberal democracy skews much younger than America’s more conservative, don’t-tread-on-me iteration. Selling climate change and income redistribution is a young person’s game.
Getting out while, the getting is good also makes sense when you can parlay a few years in government into a consulting, media or advocacy position upon leaving office. The office buildings around Parliament Hill are full to groaning with former politicians cashing out on their experience as MPs.
Maybe also it’s good to ask, in Watergate fashion, to follow the money. In American politics it appears that a number of the longest-serving people in Congress leave the job far richer than when they started. For instance, Democrat Maxine Waters is worth US $1.5 million and owns a number of real-estate properties in California after drawing her congressional salary (currently $174 K ) since 1990. How’s that happen?
She’s not alone. In the previous Congress 271 of the 533 members were millionaires. Many came to Congress with money (Darrell Issa, who just retired, was worth US $283 M), but like truffle pigs, many also sniff out opportunities presented in the course of their work. The rest is finessing ethics hearings.
There’s also a real payday for most American congress people in lucrative consulting, media and think-tank work that follows public service. Which allow American politicians to segue again into elected office. Hello 71-year-old Mitt Romney.
So yes, youth is served in Canada. But unless Ted Cruz and Francis Rooney get their way on term limits, expect there to be snow on the roof but fire in the furnace for American politicians.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the publisher of his website Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). He’s also a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also a best-selling author whose new book Cap In Hand: How Salary Caps Are Killing Pro Sports And Why The Free Market Could Save Them is now available.