Op-Ed

Who says D.C. politicians need to be so old?

Bailey Vandiver
Bailey Vandiver

I was two days too young to vote in the 2016 presidential election; but if I could have, I would have cast my vote for one of two major-party candidates. Both were almost four times my age.

You might say that as the highest office in the land, the presidency should have the oldest (implying the most experienced) candidates and eventual winners. Well, sure. But presidential candidates aren’t the only ones getting on in years.

The average age of a United States representative is 57.8, more than twice the minimum age of 25 required by the U.S. Constitution.

The average U.S. senator is 61.8 years old, just over double the minimum age of 30 years.

In some ways, the increasing age of politicians seems natural as American life expectancy continues to rise, but there are still health concerns when the presidential candidates would either tie or beat the record for oldest president at the time of taking office. And California’s Dianne Feinstein, the oldest senator, is 84, which is older than the average female life expectancy.

But more than just health concerns, there are representation concerns. The median age of Americans is 37.9 years old. No senator is that young, and only 13 of the 435 representatives were born in 1980 or later. That means that while half of the population is younger than 38 years old, less than three percent of representatives are.

About 32 percent of the population is younger than 25, according to the CIA World Factbook. That leaves 18 percent of people who could be much more accurately represented. I think a 25-year-old member of the House of Representatives will better represent me, my needs and my interests than someone pushing 60.

Will a 25-year-old join the House anytime soon? Maybe not; it’s happened fewer than 30 times and the last time was 1977. But not only would some younger members in Congress create a more accurate representation of our country, it would also encourage young people to become more involved in politics. Isn’t millennials’ lack of political interest what the older people who are thoroughly represented in Congress keep complaining about?

It’s like representation in books and movies, the idea that all people should see characters that look, act, sound and believe like they do. As an avid reader, movie-goer, and TV show binge-watcher, I believe that representation in art is incredibly important. But representation for all on the Senate and House floors is even more important (which of course involves more than just age).

There are two initial steps in the right direction for a more diverse age range in Congress.

First, don’t automatically vote for the incumbent without critically thinking about your choice. Part of the reason for the rising age of politicians is that incumbents win again and again.

Second, to young people, become interested. Don’t just vote, consider putting yourself on the ballot. There are definitely challenges to running a campaign, probably even more than if you were in your 50s or 60s. But it’ll be worth it when you improve the way our government functions.

Look back at the men who set these rules in place. Yes, Benjamin Franklin was 81 when he was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, but the average age of the delegates was 42.

And New Jersey delegate Jonathan Dayton signed one of the most important documents in history at the age of 26.

Those founding fathers got a lot of things right, including, in my opinion, letting young people in the room where it happens.

Bailey Vandiver of Bowling Green is a University of Kentucky sophomore and a Herald-Leader intern.

  Comments