by Bob Barr
President Joe Biden is 79. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is 81. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is 79, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, at 71 years old, is the baby of the bunch. The average age of America’s top political leadership is a whopping 77.5 years old. This is nearly 40 years older than the median age of the U.S. population, which stands currently at 38.1 years.
This trend may change after Biden’s first term ends in January 2025, but only if both major political parties choose to nominate younger candidates. The problem, as we close in on the end of Biden’s first year in office, is that the two most talked-about 2024 candidates would themselves be approaching octogenarian status in three years — Hillary Clinton at 77 and Donald Trump at 78.
2024 is a long way off, and Republicans might decide to break the Trump hold on the Party and opt for a younger candidate plucked from the GOP’s solid farm team. One top contender, for example, is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who will turn a youthful 46 in 2024.
The potential, anyone-but-Hillary 2024 Democrat nominee field remains foggy, but if Vice President Kamala Harris opts to run, she will just have celebrated her 60th birthday by election day 2024. If former presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren were to vie for the office again in 2024, at 77 she would be the same age as Hillary. Sen. Bernie Sanders will be a mind-blowing 83 years old in 2024, and he shows no sign of losing his desire for higher office.
There are, of course, other and somewhat younger potential Democrat contenders, but few if any serious candidates who can claim a viable national persona.
The problem seems to be younger voters’ disinterest in actually voting.
Notwithstanding that the age at which individuals are permitted to vote dropped from 21 to 18 following ratification of the 26th Amendment to the Constitution in 1971, the percentage of younger voters (18 to 24) has never surpassed the 49.6% that voted in 1972. Consistently, voters in every older age group voted in a higher percentage than those in the younger age brackets. In 2020, nearly 72% of voters aged 65 and older voted, compared to just 48% of those in the 18 to 24 age group.
Since our country’s first presidential election in 1788, 46 men have served in that office. The average age of those individuals when sworn into office has been 55 years. What accounts for the fact that the most recent occupants of that high office, and the front runners to do so in the next election cycle, are aged far in excess of that median? More important, does it matter?
Historically, most presidents considered by experts to have been the best and brightest, were not even close to their seventies when inaugurated — George Washington was 57, Thomas Jefferson was 58, Lincoln a youthful 52, and Theodore Roosevelt an energetic 43.
Life expectancy has increased dramatically over the course of our history, and stands now at nearly 80 years. But arguing that today’s septuagenarian political leaders offer higher energy, greater mental acuity, and enhanced ability to wield the tools of power in the internet age, as compared to their younger counterparts, is a tough argument to make.
This is particularly the case when considering that the median age of the U.S. population (38.1) like that of most more highly developed countries, significantly exceeds that of most less developed countries and those with emerging economies. For example, India’s median population age is a full ten years younger than ours, Iran’s is eight years younger, and Brazil’s nearly four.
Competing against countries like India, for example, with a far younger population and one that is highly tech-savvy, even as the men and women at the helm of our national decision making are in their late 70s, simply and inarguably places the United States at a distinct, and potentially dangerous, disadvantage on the world stage as we compete in this 21st Century.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He served as the United States Attorney in Atlanta from 1986 to 1990 and was an official with the CIA in the 1970s. He now practices law in Atlanta, Georgia and serves as head of Liberty Guard.