The Crimson White Print Edition - September 21, 2023

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6B<br />

opinion<br />

Calls for term limits are undemocratic and counterproductive<br />

Chance Phillips<br />

Contributing Columnist<br />

America is a gerontocracy.<br />

According to Pew<br />

Research Center, the median<br />

voting House member is 57.9<br />

years old and the median<br />

senator is 65.3 years old.<br />

President Joe Biden is 80,<br />

and if he’s reelected in 2024,<br />

he’ll leave the <strong>White</strong> House<br />

in 2029 at the tender age of<br />

86. <strong>The</strong> presumptive 2024<br />

Republican nominee, former<br />

President Donald Trump, is<br />

77. If he is elected in 2024,<br />

he’ll be 82 when his second<br />

term ends.<br />

While the U.S. Census<br />

Bureau reports that the age<br />

of the median American is<br />

slowly rising, it’s still only 38.9<br />

years old. Both of the current<br />

frontrunners for the major<br />

party nominations in 2024<br />

will be more than twice the<br />

age of the average American<br />

during the 2025-2029 term.<br />

However, it’s Sens. Dianne<br />

Feinstein, 90, finishing out<br />

her fifth and final full term,<br />

and Mitch McConnell, 81, in<br />

the middle of his seventh<br />

term, who’ve drawn the most<br />

attention for their age.<br />

According to many<br />

inside sources, Feinstein,<br />

D-Calif., is basically being<br />

puppeteered by her staffers,<br />

often unaware of where she<br />

is and what’s going on. On the<br />

opposite end of the country<br />

and the political spectrum,<br />

McConnell, R-Ky., has frozen<br />

and been completely unable<br />

to speak during live press<br />

conferences twice now.<br />

Because these high-profile<br />

politicians are visibly<br />

struggling due to their age,<br />

people have redoubled their<br />

calls to impose term limits<br />

on Congress. But this myopic<br />

focus on term limits, and<br />

age limits, as the solution<br />

to gerontocracy tellingly<br />

exemplifies the celebrification<br />

of American politics.<br />

If you really do care about<br />

the age of politicians,<br />

though, you still shouldn’t<br />

support term limits. You<br />

should support making<br />

elections far more<br />

competitive.<br />

Politics and politicians<br />

matter only because of their<br />

effects on public policy. How<br />

old a politician is matters only<br />

if it affects how they vote.<br />

If it takes “Weekend at<br />

Bernie’s”ing a literal corpse<br />

out onto the Senate floor to<br />

pass “Medicare for All” or<br />

the Protecting the Right to<br />

Organize Act, sling that body<br />

over my shoulder.<br />

This doesn’t mean<br />

representation is irrelevant.<br />

Being a member of a minority<br />

group can provide special<br />

insights into specific policy<br />

problems facing that group.<br />

What it does mean, however,<br />

is that American politics<br />

wouldn’t be fixed by kicking<br />

representatives from solid<br />

red and solid blue districts<br />

and states out of Congress<br />

every few election cycles and<br />

replacing them with nearly<br />

identical Republicans and<br />

Democrats, respectively.<br />

Modern American politics<br />

revolves around individual<br />

politicians and not political<br />

parties because our political<br />

parties are far too weak. <strong>The</strong><br />

offloading of the nomination<br />

process to primaries in the<br />

1970s and the fundraising<br />

process to candidates<br />

(through platforms like<br />

ActBlue and WinRed)<br />

means the Democratic and<br />

Republican Parties can’t<br />

control who gets elected as a<br />

Democrat or as a Republican.<br />

At face value, this seems<br />

more democratic than party<br />

insiders picking candidates<br />

in smoke-filled rooms, but it<br />

means parties can’t discipline<br />

elected officials who sabotage<br />

party priorities. In “party<br />

list” systems where party<br />

leadership picks who’s on the<br />

ballot, elected officials who<br />

vote against party principles<br />

lose their nomination.<br />

In 2017, Sen. John McCain,<br />

R-Ariz., was the decisive<br />

vote against the Republican<br />

effort to repeal the Affordable<br />

Care Act. If he hadn’t died in<br />

2018, the Republican Party<br />

would have been powerless<br />

to stop him from running and<br />

winning again in 2022.<br />

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.<br />

Va., has consistently been<br />

stonewalling President Biden’s<br />

environmental and prolabor<br />

legislative efforts. Even<br />

though prostrating himself at<br />

the feet of Big Coal probably<br />

isn’t enough for Manchin<br />

to be reelected in a state<br />

where Trump won 68.62%<br />

of the vote, the Democratic<br />

Party is basically incapable of<br />

punishing him while he’s still<br />

in the Senate.<br />

<strong>The</strong> weakness of both<br />

major American political<br />

parties means that even if<br />

a resounding majority of<br />

American voters support<br />

either party, it’s likely<br />

that party succumbs to<br />

factionalism and fails to pass<br />

the legislation its mandate<br />

demands.<br />

If we really want to see<br />

the proposed legislation that<br />

inspires us to vote get passed,<br />

then we need stronger<br />

parties, not term limits.<br />

What matters isn’t who the<br />

<strong>21</strong>8 votes in the House are,<br />

or who the 51 or 60 votes in<br />

the Senate are, but if political<br />

parties can whip up those<br />

votes.<br />

If you really do care about<br />

the age of politicians, though,<br />

you still shouldn’t support<br />

term limits. You should<br />

support making elections far<br />

more competitive.<br />

Politicians get reelected<br />

dozens of times because<br />

they represent “safe” districts<br />

or states where one of the<br />

major parties is basically a<br />

nonentity. If we want real<br />

turnover in these districts and<br />

younger candidates to get<br />

elected, we need competitive<br />

elections.<br />

This could mean changing<br />

to ranked-choice voting (like<br />

in Alaska and New York City),<br />

where you rank candidates<br />

by how much you want to<br />

see them elected, or it could<br />

mean adopting approval<br />

voting, where voters can<br />

vote for every candidate they<br />

support. Ideally, though, it<br />

would mean switching to<br />

proportional representation,<br />

and every party would get the<br />

same percentage of elected<br />

officials as they got votes.<br />

By making third parties<br />

competitive, electoral reform<br />

in combination with public<br />

election financing would stop<br />

Democrats and Republicans<br />

alike from squatting in<br />

safe seats for decades. <strong>The</strong><br />

Democratic and Republican<br />

parties would actually have to<br />

worry about more than just<br />

the handful of swing races.<br />

Term limits would just<br />

mean milquetoast politicians<br />

get replaced with cookiecutter<br />

copies every few<br />

elections. If we want public<br />

policy to actually reflect the<br />

will of voters, we don’t need<br />

half-hearted reform.<br />

We need to make<br />

politicians accountable to<br />

their parties and parties<br />

accountable to voters.<br />

<strong>The</strong> weakness of both<br />

major American political<br />

parties means that even if<br />

a resounding majority of<br />

American voters support<br />

either party, it’s likely<br />

that party succumbs to<br />

factionalism and fails to<br />

pass the legislation its<br />

mandate demands.<br />

FiscalNote<br />

CW / Shelby West

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