A reporter asked if Sen. Mitch McConnell, now 80, would be re-elected for another six-year term in 2026. The answer was not uttered, but it was all the more telling. After a few words, the leader of the Republicans in the Senate froze. He kept his gaze fixed on endless distances as a concerned colleague stepped forward, tried unsuccessfully to regain his attention, and finally led him away.
Maybe it's better not to, such a new term, one would think with such a scene. In fact, the question echoing in the halls of Washington is whether McConnell should finish his current term. After all, it was already the second time this summer that it suddenly froze, and it also seemed that it often fell suddenly. Are we witnessing in public someone slowly losing control of things, perhaps due to the onset of Alzheimer's?
For the time being, this question seems purely theoretical. Few would expect McConnell, one of Washington DC's most astute and influential politicians, to willingly step behind the geraniums.
Radical right senators
It's also debatable whether Senate Republicans would strip him of his leadership. Regardless of McConnell's skill in Machiavellian maneuvers, some senators will fear what will happen after the McConnell era. When the man who has held the faction in an iron fist since 2006 is gone, the new generation of radical right-wing Republican senators, elected in the wake of Trump, could try to seize power.
And per se, McConnell, despite his age and his health problems, is not even out of place in American politics, and certainly not in the Senate. The average age there is around 65 years.
In the United States, we do not just lose a very old, even insane politician. This problem also applies to Democrats. From their Senator Dianne Feinstein, now 90, it's been an open secret for years that she no longer has them all in a row. But his voice is crucial in the Legal Affairs Committee. When she was absent a few months earlier this year, all of President Biden's legal appointments were suddenly blocked.
She is now back, but her behavior is erratic. After questions from reporters about her absence, she categorically denied having been absent. And recently, when she had to vote, she calmly started a speech, while her colleagues tried to explain to her that she only had to say “yes”.
Dianne Feinstein, 90, is being asked to ‘just say yes' in the vote on the defense appropriations bill.
Someone help him. pic.twitter.com/sUhcUATShS
– Free Citizen Press (@CitizenFreePres) July 27, 2023
One of the reasons for the high average age of politicians in the United States is that political party organizations have much less power than in other democracies, in part because of the district system. In the Netherlands, Feinstein had long since been removed from office by a bid committee. In California, the state for which Feinstein has served as a senator since 1992, the Democratic Party also attempted to field a new candidate in 2018, but Feinstein simply participated in the primary. She earned it through her reputation.
Added to this is the aging of the population, which means that a larger part of the electorate itself is elderly. And, while it's harder to quantify exactly how it works, the apparent ability of America's baby boomers to hold on to power.
In the 1990s, this generation, born between 1946 and 1964, was in power and still is today. In 1997, the political elite was still on average 51.8 years old, in 2021, this average age reached a record level: 69.7 years old. In 2023, due to the departure of Nancy Pelosi, this had fallen slightly, but still 66.7. In the current Senate, baby boomers hold 66 of the 100 seats (and there are also 8 members of the silent generation that preceded them).
It is very high, it is also found in the United States. McConnell's health issues have sparked a debate in the United States over measures to curb the aspirations of very old politicians, such as age restrictions and limits on the number of terms a politician can serve. One problem: they have to pass the Senate.