In October, I wrote a piece entitled “America Is In Serious Trouble” pointing out that six U.S. Senators are in their 80s and the rest of the American leadership, including Biden and Trump, are no kids either.
Now one of the politicians I mentioned, Senator Diane Feinstein (D-California) apparently is quickly slipping into full-on dementia. This fact was identified by her hometown newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle. It was a long and well researched article, and all the symptoms have been apparent since the Kavanaugh hearings.
Both Senators Byrd and Thurmond were mentally incapacitated due to dementia while still in the Senate before they died at the beginning of this century. Both were older than Feinstein. While Feinstein, Bird, and Thurmond might have been legislative giants when they were in their sixties and seventies, how are their constituents served by them remaining in office far past their prime. Their staff continues to be powerful in the elected official’s name, but the people did not elect the staff.
If Feinstein and her compatriots were on the board of directors of a private company, they would be removed. The U.S. House and Senate have no mechanism to find a member medically and mentally unfit except expulsion. And the onset of dementia does not seem to be a reason to expel a member. Outside of the Civil War, the Senate has only expelled one member in our history.
Dementia of all kinds affects 3% of the population between the ages of 70 and 75, 22% of those between 85 and 89, and 33% of those over 90. Do we really want representatives of those advanced ages calling the shots for our nation and our future? Being in office was never meant to be a job but rather a brief stint…much like serving on a non-profit board.
Many of our current office holders never have worked outside of government. An example of this is Senator Marco Rubio who was born in 1971 in Miami. He began his career by working in the congressional office of Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and for the Dole campaign when Dole ran for president. Rubio then ran for a seat on the West Miami Commission. The next year he became a Florida House member and eventually the speaker.
In 2010 he ran for U.S. Senate. While he can claim he has worked as an attorney in the private sector while in the Florida House, it wasn’t his legal acumen that brought him clients. Rubio is not unique but rather the rule in America today. Like Feinstein, they never leave even when incapacitated.
The Articles of Confederation had a 3-term limit for serving in Congress. Thomas Jefferson was also wary of abandoning rotation (as term limits were called then), and wrote to his friend Edward Rutledge in 1788, “I apprehend that the total abandonment of the principle of rotation in the offices of president and senator will end in abuse. But my confidence is that there will for a long time be virtue and good sense enough in our countrymen to correct abuses.” After more than two centuries there is a distinct lack of virtue and good sense in our nation today.
Madison was not in favor of term limits. He thought frequent elections would keep legislators in check. At our beginnings, many of our Founders believed in doing what was best for the nation, that is far from the truth today. In 1790, the year of the first census, the U.S. had fewer than 4 million people. Today, with a population of 333 million, we have a system that has become corrupt and manipulated by the very politicians who are standing for elections.
So, what we really have are a group of very old men and women entrenched in power and unwilling to leave the scene. The Finnish Prime Minister is 36 and a woman. Finland only has 4 million people, but it shows we do not have to elect a Biden or a Trump at their advance sclerotic ages. How about candidates for Congress or the White House who are around 50 and will then retire by the time they have served two terms?
I guess that may be too much to hope for in our much-broken political system.