Why don’t we have age limits for holding office?

The New York Times ran a story this week about how the press should cover the health of our elderly leaders. This happened to be the same week that Chris Rock made a pitch for term limits on Saturday Night Live.

Seeing these two stories side by side made me wonder: Why we don’t have maximum age limits for holding office?

There is precedence for this already. One must be 25 to run for the House of Representatives, 30 for Senate, and 35 for President in the United States. We accept age minimums because we believe that excessive youth in these positions, like an 18 year old President, would be bad for the country.

As people increasingly outlive the sharpness of their minds, why don’t we have a similar concern about excessive age?

Setting a bar, like you can’t be elected after your 80th birthday*, can assure us that we aren’t filling the government with people who are unable to make sound decisions.

Someone might argue that this would be unfair since some people remain mentally capable late in life. But isn’t this true of youth as well? Some of the top tech CEOs are quite young but still capable managers. Surely this means that some 32 year olds would make excellent Presidents. But we accept age minimums because they work more often than they don’t.

Given the age of our current presidential candidates, adding a rule like this doesn’t seem like it would advantage one party over another. Additionally, you could phase it in a way that doesn’t affect the current generation of politicians (e.g., for all people born after 1995).

There may also be positive benefits. Given the impact of events earlier in life on one’s political ideas, having an end date on elected public service might help society to adjust to the times, rather than hanging on to a past that no longer exists.

This might seem like a solution to a problem we haven’t really had yet, but that’s the point. When it becomes clear that we have someone in position that isn’t up for it, getting them out of it will be highly partisan, so let’s avoid that problem all together by dealing with it before it happens.

*I’m not wedded to age 80, just the principle. I’m sure people with more expertise than me can pinpoint an age where mental decline becomes much more common.

operating a bit outside the lines

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