Is It Time For A Constitutional Amendment On Ageing?

By Donald A. Collins | 30 July 2023
Church and State

(Credit: YouTube / screengrab)

This past week I attended the 99th birthday party for an friend whose company I had enjoyed for years. He enjoyed the presence of so many family members and friends, despite the infirmities age brings to us all.

Aging will certainly be an issue when Biden now 80 runs for a second term in 2024.

He, unlike his predecessor, brings substantial governing qualifications to his job. And judging from his performance so far in countless high pressure public appearances, he carries his age remarkably.

At 92, my good health allows me to write op ed pieces for this web site, drive my car to go shopping and to my golf games several times a week. How lucky is that?

However, I am not serving in high public office, where lack of acuity brings huge potential risks.

That statement is not to say younger people can’t make bad decisions.

In a country with over 340 million people, many highly educated and qualified for high office, ignoring the opportunity to bring in younger blood is stupid.

Judging the highly disparate aging conditions of those serving is important but impossible.

The only way to achieve consistency is to set a top age for Federal government employees to serve.

This will likely be impossible but perhaps an amendment to our constitution would allow a bipartisan compromise.

Those serving when approved would finish their terms if no health problems intervened.

Dying in the saddle at a high age seems to be irresistible to many now serving, as power, glory and the money are so enticing.

Not many retire like Harry Truman who refused lucrative financial opportunities he saw as inappropriate.

Read here.

He set a standard seldom replicated since and certainly didn’t make millions as present Supreme Court Justices now do with book deals which they report and other perks they may not willingly report.

Read here.

But let’s not here now discuss the obvious need for an ethics code at the Supreme Court.

Knowing the GOP will feature intense concerns about Biden’s age, it is after all a legitimate concern given the news lately about any serving in high places in our federal government. Of course, the likely GOP nominee is 77!

Other examples of ageing include the longest serving member of the US Senate, Califonia Democrat, Dianne Feinstein, 90, who has now been described as having to be prompted by colleagues to vote on 7/28/23.

CNN reported she “has been in frail health following a shingles diagnosis in the spring, has appeared confused at times since her return to the Capitol has faced questions about her health in recent years, and members of her own party called on her to resign her Senate seat after an extended absence earlier this year following the shingles diagnosis. She returned to Washington in June.”

Read here.

Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, 81, froze on Tuesday 7/26/23 as he was speaking.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell malfunctioned and suddenly stopped speaking during a weekly Republican leadership press conference on Wednesday afternoon, appearing to freeze, before being helped away by concerned GOP Senators.

McConnell, R-Ky., had been making his opening remarks when he suddenly stopped talking. His Republican colleagues asked if he was okay while he looked lost and confused.

He looked like he was trying to restart his speech but was unable when Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., escorted McConnell away from the cameras and reporters.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa appeared to make a sign of the cross as if she was praying for McConnell.

A few minutes later, McConnell came back to the press conference by himself.

He stood away from the podium and when asked about his health he said he was fine.

Read here.

McConnell’s health history puts him in serious douubt.

Many aged Senators have served. We know the oldest person to serve in the US Senate was Strom Thurmond who was 100 when he died there.

As Wikipedia tells us,

James Strom Thurmond Sr. (December 5, 1902 – June 26, 2003) was an American politician. He was the oldest serving member of the United States Senate to date and the only senator to reach 100 while in office. He was also Governor of his home state South Carolina and a Presidential candidate. He was a lawyer.

Thurmond spent more than 70 years of his life on public career. Before World War II he served as state senator and judge. During war he served in the US Army in Europe and briefly in Asia. In 1960 he was promoted to the rank of major general.

Thurmond was born on December 5, 1902 in Edgefield, South Carolina. His family used to own slaves, including ancestors of Al Sharpton. He studied at Clemson Agricultural College of South Carolina. Thurmond graduated in 1923. He was married to Jean Crouch from 1947 until they divorced in 1960. Then he was married to Nancy Moore from 1968 until his death in 2003. He had five children.

You can read his whole interesting history here.

On TV recently, I watched Senator Charles “Chuck” Grassley, now 89 and just reelected, who seemed to stumble as he walked into a meeting. Of course, at a recent meeting, Biden tripped over something he didn’t see and fell and was assisted when he got up unhurt.

So, in contrast to the Originalist orthodoxy of Justice Antonin Scalia, I suggest we deal with this ageing problem with a Constitutional Amendment, as difficult as that may be to accomplish.

Would picking the age of mandatory retirement be difficult? Probably since everything wise and obvious seems to be disputed by our Congressional members these days.

But how about 75, since the average age most people expect to live is 76. We could argue for a younger age, but likely that would make the process much harder.

Being an old geezer myself, I found the following article about ageing helpful.

The American Psychological Association offers advice about ageing in an article entitled, “Older adults have more control over their aging than they think”.

Here’s one quote:

Older adults are actually the most diverse age group, but they are often seen as unilaterally frail, vulnerable or even expendable,” says Diehl. “The COVID-19 crisis is further reinforcing those existing stereotypes.”

In fact, adults who are 65 to 74 years old, 75 to 84 years old, or 85 and over face different risks. And like the rest of the United States population, older adults are diverse in race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, immigration status, gender identity, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, and rural/urban location. Those characteristics interact in complex ways as individuals age, says Mehrotra.

This article offers to me more reasons for setting a mandatory retirement age and possibly avoiding some of the bad effects of ageing. Personally, I am not running for anything except on occasion the bathroom!!

Former US Navy officer, banker and venture capitalist, Donald A. Collins, a free lance writer living in Washington, DC, has spent over 50 years working for women’s reproductive health as a board member and/or officer of numerous family planning organizations including Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Guttmacher Institute, Family Health International and Ipas. Yale under graduate, NYU MBA. He is the author of “From the Dissident Left: A Collection of Essays 2004-2013”, “Trump Becoming Macbeth: Will our democracy survive?”, “We Humans Overwhelm Our Earth: 11 or 2 Billion by 2100?”, “What Can Be Done Now to Save Habitable Life on Planet Earth?”, “Vote”, “Can Homo Sapiens Survive?”, “Will Choice and Democracy Win?”, “Can Our U.S. Survive 8 Plus Billion of Us” and “Economic Growth: A Cancer on all Earthly Life”.

Oldest US Senate in history sparks conversation about age limits

Sen. Dianne Feinstein appears confused on how to cast a vote in committee | ABCNL

Sen. Mitch McConnell freezes during news conference

‘Disturbing’: GOP senators react to McConnell freezing at news conference

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