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Weed out the fossils

June 9, 2008

by Ivan Raconteur

There has been a lot of talk about change during this election season, but not much action.

If we are serious about change, perhaps we should worry more about Congress, and less about the president. We only have one president, but we have 100 senators and about 440 representatives.

We can scarcely expect things to change much when the center of government is a mausoleum filled with a bunch of doddering old fossils creaking about the joint with bewildered expressions on their mugs.

The 110th Congress is the oldest in this country’s history. The average age in the House of Representatives is 56, and the average senator is 62.

But these are averages, and those in their 60s are relative striplings compared to some of the senior members.

The oldest representative, at age 84, is Ralph Hall of Texas. The oldest senator is 90-year-old Robert Byrd of West Virginia.

Several members of Congress are in their 80s, and many more are in their 70s.

This is not an ageist commentary. We have the utmost respect for the dedication and experience of these geriatric public servants.

One would simply point out that the governing body is becoming increasingly frail, as evidenced by a number of hospital visits in recent months by members of this venerable institution for complaints commonly associated with the elderly.

Running a country can be a taxing proposition (in more ways than one), and perhaps it is time to let some of these dedicated dinosaurs retire to enjoy what is left of their golden years.

After all, a lot has changed since the last time some of these fogies were out in the real world.

Representative John Dingell of Michigan has served for 52 years since taking office in December 1955. That year, Eisenhower was in the White House, “The Honeymooners” and “The Johnny Carson Show” debuted on TV, and Bill Halley and the Comets hit number one with “Rock around the Clock.” A first class stamp cost 3 cents, and the minimum wage was raised from 75 cents to $1.

Byrd, president pro tem of the Senate, took office four years later in January 1959.

Another lifer is Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, who has been at it since 1968.

This is not what the founding fathers had in mind. They envisioned citizen legislators who would take a turn representing their peers and then return to the private sector, not career politicians who would take root in Congress and never leave until they were carried out in a pine box.

The founders of our country did not contemplate a Congress that needed a geriatric medicine wing to care for the incumbents.

One would not advocate electing a bunch of teenagers to take over. Some level of maturity is necessary, and the Constitution addresses this by requiring that representatives be at least 25, and senators at least 30 years old when they take office.

We need sensible term limits to ensure a supply of fresh blood and, more importantly, fresh ideas, in Washington.

The members of the Old Guard have done their duty. It is a burden on them and a disservice to the country to keep electing them term after term.

We must let them sail off into the sunset with dignity, not keep them in their seats until someone starts shoveling dirt in their faces.

Experience has its place, but if we are serious about energizing government and bringing about real change, we need to begin by weeding out the decrepit relics of years gone by.