How old is too old?

The following suggests that Senator Frank Lautenberg is too old to run for reelection.  Meanwhile, Politco has reported that Joe Biden is “intoxicated” (figuratively, that is) by the prospect of becoming president.  Biden will be 74 in 2016.  So how old is too old?  Should there be age limits on elected officials, just as the Constitution imposes a minimum age?  Or should we let the voters decide?  What about federal judges? Should they be able to serve for life, as they do now?  Or should there be a mandatory retirement age?


Senator Frank Lautenberg Is Too Old to Run for Reelection

By Conor Friedersdorf

The 89-year-old New Jerseyan is refusing to bow out in 2014 — in defiance of both fellow Democrat Cory Booker and actuarial tables.

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Let’s not mince words: Senator Frank Lautenberg, who will be 90 in 2014, is too old to run for another six-year term. I am not questioning his mental sharpness or the wisdom that he’s accumulated.

They’re beside the point.

He’d be starting a new term while fifteen years older than the average life-expectancy for American males. What are the odds he’d survive in adequate health until 2020?

Low. Too low to risk letting him try, given the political disruption and discontinuity of service that would result if he failed. As a general matter, I am against age discrimination in hiring. I usually oppose mandatory retirement rules. And I know that New Jersey voters can reject the man even if he decides to run.

But don’t candidates owe their constituents the promise that, to the best of their ability to estimate, they’ll be capable of finishing the job? The hard truth is that Lautenberg can’t make that promise. Beyond actuarial reality, he’s already missed important votes because of health problems.

I don’t know if he could win a primary, but incumbency and name recognition are powerful advantages, and if he won, voters in the general election wouldn’t be permitted to just choose the man with the better platform, or the ones from the party with whom they identify more closely — to be responsible, they’d have to factor extreme age and its likely effects into their calculations.

At what point should voters consider age in general? I have no idea where the line should be drawn — just that 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, and 95 are all on the wrong side of it. New Jersey Supreme Court justices must retire at 70.

For those reasons and others, Lautenberg is way out of line for telling — via the Philadelphia Inquirer — Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who is interested in running for his seat, “I have four children, I love each one of them. I can’t tell you that one of them wasn’t occasionally disrespectful, so I gave them a spanking and everything was OK.”

Booker, the man he’s comparing to a child, is 43 years old — 10 years older than Jesus Christ when he died, 10 years older than Thomas Jefferson when he wrote the Declaration of Independence, and eight years older than the minimum age at which one can run for president.

I hope Lautenberg lives to be 110, is healthy and productive until the end, and injects his elder’s wisdom into public discourse at every opportunity. But another six years in the Senate just doesn’t make sense. Earlier in his career, Lautenberg himself injected age into a race against a 72-year-old Republican opponent. He should retire at the end of his term and stay neutral in the race to succeed him.

19 responses to “How old is too old?”

  1. Lizzie1 says :

    I think that we should let the voters decide how old they want their representative or president to be. If it’s really an issue, it come up during the campaign and be a liability. But we should allow a prominent political figure to run for office no matter how old they are. As far as federal judges, I think that the President and the Senate should be able to suggest retirement if they think a certain judge is not fit to serve.

  2. Liz7 says :

    While I don’t think there should be an age limit for candidates running for any political office, it should be something voters take into account. Just as we are supposed to consider experience, ideology, and past accomplishments voters should factor in age. A 90 year old, no matter the intelligence gained in his many years, cannot face the demands of being in Congress. When we studied past political gaffes and major mistakes we came to the conclusion that these happened when a politician was exhausted, overworked, and unprepared. Someone well over the expected lifespan cannot sustain these burdens. A politician of that age will make mistakes and will not be able to hold a position in Congress. Obama, who is young by presidential standards, has been criticized for appearing exhausted and unprepared – so I can only imagine what Joe Biden would look like after several years in office. Though he is obviously unwilling to let go of his position in government – Lautenberg needs to accept that younger politicians are better suited for the demands of our government.

  3. BenLev4 says :

    I agree with Liz that there should not be an age limit for candidates when running for any political office, but, it should be up to the candidate to decide that they are no longer fit to hold office. In the case with Senator Lautenberg, at the age of 90, he is just TOO old to run again. However, it should be up to Senator Lautenberg to retire, not some ruling. Frankly, the fact that he is even considering to run again is just selfish. I believe that at the age of 90, he will no longer be active, effective, or able to hold office. Just as it was stated in the passage, there is a low chance that he will maintain good health into 2020. I question Senator Lautenberg’s decision making when deciding to run again, as he desperately clings to his position. But as aforementioned, it should be Senator Lautenberg’s decision.

  4. robhrabchak4 says :

    I personally would not mind having a maximum age limit on candidates running for office. Any age limit would just be an arbitrary number that does not necessarily correspond with ability to hold office, although I think that a similar argument could be made against having a minimum age limit for running for office. There are certainly different factors in play when considering a minimum age limit, but there is really no controversy over placing that restriction. So if we are all okay with having an arbitrary minimum age limit, I don’t see a problem with imposing a similarly arbitrary maximum age limit. Like the author pointed out, we already do this for other public positions.

  5. Kunaal7 says :

    I think this is an ageist prejudice. We should not elect our candidates based on age, but based on how they perform. Especially for public office, where candidate’s every move is tracked, a candidate will have a hard time getting re-elected. In the past, we have seen presidents like Ronald Regan perform very effectively even when he was 77 years old. Instead of banning the candidate due to their age, we should put referendum on their performance. If candidate does not attend the assembly session or he/she is not present for important voting and their attendance is below some percentage then we should have re-election. This would make physically unable to perform, pup candidates removed for their voting and policies rather than their age.

  6. Emily1 says :

    My opinion is that you should be able to run as long as your health does not impact your ability to work. In this case, it appears that Lautenberg has missed votes due to health complications, therefore he should not be able to run again. If you are 70 and are having issues, it should be the same policy. An age limit does not make sense: everyone ages at their own rate and a number is no indicator of physical fitness or ability to maintain your position in office. The candidate can’t be forced not to run, but it should be strongly considered by the candidate and voters alike.

  7. mattgiannottione says :

    Emily raises a good point that age works differently for everyone. My great grandmother died at 100, my grandfather at 91, my grandmother at 90. They were all very well past their life expectancy and still sharp as tacks. It should be up to the voters to take age into consideration, challengers to expose advanced ages, and runners to decide if they can carry out their terms efficiently and effectively. Age limits would restrict deserving and effective candidate from serving our nation as wise leaders.

  8. eddiemeyercord4 says :

    Unless there is some sort of rule change, Mr. Lautenberg will be able to continue running for as long as he lives. Sure, you can use the argument that voters will decide how old they want their representative to be. But wait a second, aren’t we talking about voters here people? Haven’t we seen that a whole lot of voters are incredibly ignorant? I personally had no clue how old Mr. Lautenberg was until I read this article, and I’m an APUSGOV student! Imagine how much your average New Jersey voter actually knows. Do you think Snooki is going to choose not to vote for Mr. Lautenberg because she believes his age and deteriotating condition will be harmful not only to the state he represents but the country as a whole? The power incumbency is very significant, and as a result I fear that he might actually have a shot at re-election. For someone that is a United States Senator, I would think that Mr. Lautenberg would be able to recognize the line between service and selfishness before he crossed it years ago.

  9. bump7 says :

    Although I do not believe an age limit should be set in place I feel that voters need to take into consideration the age of a candidate when voting. I see in many ways how older candidates can be good in office, i.e. experience, traditional thinking, etc. but if a candidate is too old we risk their health while in office, and their decision making may not reflect that of the people. Older candidates can struggle with getting out to see all of their constituents and not everybody’s voice can be heard.

  10. govrobin1 says :

    There is definitely a reasonable and unreasonable age to run for office, but in this democratic system it should be left to the discretion of the voter. As we discussed in out last unit, the multitude of paradoxes we find within our presidency is huge, one of the main ones being we want an experience president also untainted by Washington and we want an innovative president, who also keeps in touch with tradition. Both of these are connected to the age of the candidate in some respect. Personally, I believe that the minimum age requirement should be kept in place to ensure that the potential candidate is mature and has had some experience, or has thought out their campaign. Not that age and maturity are necessarily directly correlated, but that they do tend to go hand in hand more often than not. Furthermore, there should be no age limit. Health risks are a concern of the voters and the age should be viewed as a factor of how in touch the candidate is with the current times, innovative ideas and “their America”, however, this is not the place for Congress to decide where this age limit should be placed, it should be left to the voters on election day.

  11. Connor1 says :

    Yes the principle of age discrimination is very prominent in the debate as to whether or not Frank Lautenberg should be allowed to run for reelection, but i don’t see why this is even relevant because the vote is still in the hands of the people. If the people of New Jersey still think that Lautenberg is the best man for the job even in his old age, than that is their opinion and they have the right to choose who they want to represent them. If they think Lautenberg has served them well in the past but is too old to do his job properly at his current age, then they will simply vote for a different candidate. I understand that the dilemma if Lautenberg were to pass away would be very prominent because senator’s aren’t easily replaced and no one wants to deal with such a process, but if the people want Lautenberg as senator, they should be able to vote for that right.

  12. nicoleb7 says :

    Age should definitely be a big factor when people are deciding who they want to represent them. But that being said I don’t think there should be an age limit on candidates who want to be elected. If people think that the candidates age is affecting his health and judgment then they should not elect him in the first place. In this case people are still voting for him so there is no reason he shouldn’t be able to run just because he is over an age limit. There are a lot of older political people that are still healthy and making good decisions and as long as that’s happening then there shouldn’t be a problem. Leave it up to the people to judge when old is to old, there is no need for a limit.

  13. 4thomas says :

    Truthfully, age should be one of the last things a person considers when voting. Teenagers (us) and society as a whole tends to undermine senior citizens and “old people” as being incapable or non-functioning. With age the body and mind does slow down, but that is not to say that aged politicians couldn’t handle their job. Some of our nations best politicians are above the age of 80, and they do have the most wisdom and experience. Age can be considered in voting, but it should be one of the smallest factors and even with that, too old is better than too young.

  14. thetuck1 says :

    I agree with Lizzie that ultimately, the voters ought to be the ones deciding whether age is truly an issue. I imagine that voters would consider his age when they make their vote (although, undeniably, there will be voters that don’t actually know anything about him and simply vote for him because he is a Democrat). If the people think that one’s age is not an issue, then it ought not to be. Personally, I think that the situation depends on the person. Lautenberg may be 90, but the article claims that his “mental sharpness” and his “wisdom” have not frayed with his age. So long as he is still doing his job well, and so long as he does not currently have any health issues, he should be allowed to run and serve.

  15. Nick4 says :

    Ideally, the person running should be the one to decide how old is too old, but as we have seen, sometimes people find it hard to relinquish power even when they aren’t fit for the job anymore. William Douglas was a Supreme Court Justice for almost 37 years, and he clearly was not fit for the job in his last years. In fact, he had a debilitating stroke in 1974, but didn’t retire until almost a year later. However, that was a life term, so citizens couldn’t vote someone else in. I think people are able to tell if someone if healthy enough to do a good job in politics. In the 2008 election, there was the idea that Sarah Palin was one heartbeat away from the Presidency. I don’t care if you’re a Republican or Democrat. That’s scary. That idea definitely affected McCain during his run for office. I’m against an age restriction, because Emily is right, age works differently on people. But in the case of a Justice who refuses to give up their seat, something should be done. It’s not fair to the country.

  16. jenchen1 says :

    So how old is too old? When health/mental issues inhibit/affect a person’s decisions or judgement.
    Should there be age limits on elected officials, just as the Constitution imposes a minimum age? A minimum age makes sense to me, but a maximum is not necessary. For the same reasons many of my peers have pointed out.
    Or should we let the voters decide? Voters should definately decide whether or not their elected officials are too old for the job. That’s why voters need to stay informed.
    What about federal judges? Federal judges should serve for life. It’s an integral part of the judicial system. The same reason why SCOTUS justices serve for life.

  17. langston4 says :

    While I do believe some people are just simply too old to run of office, there should not be a maximum age limit. If someone wants to run for office that is great, but it is up to the candidate to decide whether or not he or she can still perform their duties in office. While yes they might be more experienced than other politicians, its still a really demanding job, one that I personally think people above 90 will have great trouble handling. That being said, I believe its also up to the voters to look at age when electing someone into office, and that it should be one of many deciding factors when looking for a candidate to support.

  18. jackb7 says :

    In hindsight, i am glad Lautenberg opted not to run for reelection. Sometimes politics is a young man’s game, sometimes it’s a veteran’s game…however by the time that you could reach the age where a fall could put your life in danger it seems on just that you ease up the workload, especially when yours involves constant stress brought on by tension and debate. Lautenberg was a good Senator, but his time to step down has come and he has made the right decision in doing so.

  19. iqra07 says :

    I don’t think that there should be an age limit, but at the same time, I don’t think that people of a certain age should be in Congress. That age, however, is quite vague because aging affects different people in different ways. Different people can handle different workloads. I think that people should be left to decide whether or not their representative is still as efficient as he or she used to be, and whether he or she is fit to continue to represent them.

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