In Politics, When Is Old Too Old?
The Democratic Party's congressional leadership looks like a geriatric home-- and, increasingly, has been acting like one. Steyn Hoyer wants Nancy Pelosi to retire already. She'll be 76 in March. A couple months later, though, Hoyer will turn 77. The #3 in the House Democratic Leadership, Clyburn turns 76 next July. The only youngster in top leadership is Xavier Becerra, a mere 57. A comparison with the Republican House leaders is startling. Ryan is 45. McCarthy is 50, same as Scalise and #4, Cathy McMorris Rodgers is just 46. California has the biggest House delegation-- 53 members. And of the 53, 13 are in their 70s, only one of whom-- backbencher Paul Cook, who represents a huge stretch of trackless wilderness with no cities or big towns that stretches from Joshua Tree through Death Valley past Yosemite almost to Lake Tahoe-- is a Republican.
Yesterday, writing for the NY Times, Mark Schmitt did an OpEd called A Lost Generation of Democrats that goes beyond marveling at how old the Democratic presidential candidates are-- Hillary at 68 and Bernie at 74-- and at how relatively young (average age 57) the Republican candidates are, only Trump old enough to collect Social Security. "Does it say something about the party, or about the generation," he asks, "that other than President Obama (born at the tail end of the baby boom), national candidates from this age group are rare? If Hillary Clinton is elected and serves eight years, by 2024, the oldest of the millennials will then be hitting their mid-40s, ready to take over. The generation of Run-D.M.C. and Winona Ryder might miss its chance altogether."
Politically active Democrats of this post-boomer generation (my own) should admit that our experience is a bit out of step with the tone and demands of current politics. Unlike baby boomers, we weren’t brought up on the campus activism of the late 1960s, and we didn’t describe ourselves as “searching for more immediate, ecstatic, and penetrating modes of living,” as Mrs. Clinton did in her Wellesley commencement speech in 1969. The formative experiences of older Generation Xers were in the quiescent Reagan years, when civic life offered neither the sense of affirmative mission of the civil rights era nor the intense protests and passions of the late 1960s.Yesterday I mentioned on Facebook that "I'd like to see Ohio's two dull establishment conservative Senate candidates dance to this tune"
...The Democratic Party, as an institution, had little meaning for this generation. It was not ideologically coherent — extremely conservative Southerners were still Democrats well into the Clinton years-- and the party’s operatives did little to make it meaningful to young people. The idea that by the mid-2000s, young people would identify as “Fighting Dems” and embrace Mr. Dean’s “50-state strategy” to expand the party would seem really surprising to us in the 1990s.
Meanwhile, like most of the Republican candidates, middle-aged conservatives spent their youth in the sunshine of the Reagan era, sometimes like Michael J. Fox’s Alex P. Keaton character, surprising their boomer parents with their right-wing views. Their early adulthood was shaped by the galvanizing backlash politics of Newt Gingrich, a mode that the candidates and their congressional counterparts are now taking to absurd extremes.
The passionless, compromised assumptions about politics among mainstream Democrats in the 1990s seem deeply irrelevant to the post-Great Recession, post-Iraq war world of #BlackLivesMatter, the Occupy movement and a socialist slugging it out in the polls. The “Reagan Democrats” we were chasing have now been Republicans for half a lifetime, and aren’t coming back, while an “emerging American electorate” that is younger and less white takes their place.
Step into any progressive organization in Washington or the states, and you’ll see the same phenomenon: leadership by baby boomers, an intense and passionate group of 20- and 30-somethings, and nobody else. The middle generation is largely missing. Similarly in the electorate, support for Democrats drops off in the 45-64 age group.
Eventually, this may not matter. Younger politicians and public servants shaped by more recent experience will take their place in leadership and in national elections. But the missing middle-aged Democrats remind us that the formative assumptions of each generation can cast a long shadow on the future.
Ohio's incumbent Republican senator, Rob Portman turns 60 in a few weeks. The Democratic Establishment has chosen an ancient mariner to go up against him: Ted Strickland, who will turn 75 a few months before the election. The grassroots candidate running for the Democratic nomination, Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld, may be part of the future of the Democratic Party but he's been hammered by the state party, hammered by the national party-- especially the corrupt and decrepit DSCC-- and even the Democrats' progressive U.S. Senator, Sherrod Brown, who served in the House with both Portman and Strickland, and often found himself at odds with their shared conservative perspective, endorsed Strickland over Sittenfeld.
Sittenfeld is 31. Strickland is afraid to debate him and avoids appearing on stage with him at all costs. He was trapped into it last month and the video way up top explains why. Sittenfeld looks and sounds like he's ready to take on Portman for the Democrats. Strickland sounds tired and confused and ready for some warm milk and a cookie before being tucked in.
Look, I used to be young. I'm not any more. It happens to the best of us. Although almost none of my peers did-- and most were considerably older than me-- I retired from the music business because I wanted to make room for younger men and women coming up the ranks, and I wasn't even near Social Security age yet. But I didn't define myself as my job and I felt I had a lot more life I wanted to experience than just doing that job, even if it was a dream job. Politicians are as bad as music executives; they don't want to go, even when they start losing touch.