Youth, for all that it lacks, tends better than its alternative to sell. Who in his right mind, after all, would go to the cinema and drop his last nickel to watch a hoary old mug on the screen? Who really wants to see a face like his own—so familiar in the dusty mirrors at home—furrowed by wrinkles and bespattered by liver spots and moles? Who wants to see that sagging visage, the one that once smiled, but in whose lineaments now sprout the signs of too many unrequited dreams? No one, that’s who. And so, pining for the days long since passed, we adults here in the West cherish youth above all else. Like the calf to which the Hebrews prayed in the absence of Moses, or the goddess of Reason to which the French prayed in the absence of sense, it’s at the feet of the idol of youth to which we Americans prostrate ourselves in the presence of prurience.
So then, being that youth has been placed so high atop the pedestal of our public esteem, it comes rather as a surprise to consider the ages of some of our more omnipresent, if not eminent politicians (and yes, you can certainly be one of those two things—usually omnipresent—without being the other). Think only of the top four presidential candidates in our latest election cycle. Combined, their ages amounted to 265. Add to this list of Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Ted Cruz—of whom the last on the list is a downright stripling, having lived only 47 years—any number of other elderly public officials, and America begins to look less like the burly and vigorous democracy of our imagination and more like a decrepit gerontocracy—a government administered by the aged from their wheelchairs and beds.
Amongst said elderly politicians, we can count Senators Feinstein, Nelson, Sanders, McConnell, and Hatch—who, after over three decades in Washington, will be once and for all retiring to private life. Should she be re-elected to another six-year term, Senator Feinstein would retire (or not) at the age of 91. All the others would be boldly entering their eighties at the culmination of another term. As far as the House is concerned, eldest amongst their members are Sam Johnson, Jose Serrano, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Nancy Pelosi, and, of course, the aptly named Donald Young. Of these congressional septuagenarians and octogenarians, Johnson distinguishes himself as the eldest, though Young isn’t far behind. Add all of their ages together, and you’re well in pursuit of a thousand years.
In fact, this current Congress—the 115th of its ilk—is among the most elderly in American history. Of course, this recognition need be taken with a grain of salt (though I beg of you, for the sake of your own longevity, do watch the sodium, please). Doubtless, life expectancy has seen something of a bump since the days of George Washington and Benjamin Rush—when the latter famously purged to the brink of death the good General—and for this, we’re thankful. Nevertheless, in this present moment of our exuberance born renewed in youth, the ages of our statesmen appear exceedingly old.
So old are they, that the average American is a full two decades younger than the representative for whom he votes. What’s more, said “average” American is getting younger by the day. In less than a year, come 2019, it’s estimated that Millennials (those born between 1985 and 2000) will for the first time outnumber Baby Boomers (those born in the post-war years, roughly between 1945 and 1965). This transition, from Lipitor to Lyft, hemorrhoids to hipsters, and antacids to avocado toast, will bring with it many changes to the national portrait and many consequences as well. With the rising preponderance of Millennials in society and the diminution of our elders, cultural mores are bound to shift, and likely, they'll shift to the left. The question becomes how far. What's sure is that consumption trends will continue their prodigal surge—though via the click of a mouse rather than a check-out line. Technology will be inextricable as modernity conquers all. The economy will thus become reliant on automation as never it has before. Heterogeneity will increasingly become the norm, as minority ethnic groups swell and begin to look more like majorities. In light of all this, one should expect the political landscape to change in tune and in pace.
As the country approaches this autumn’s mid-term elections, it already appears to be doing just that.
Contending for Pennsylvania’s open congressional seats on behalf of the renascent Democratic Socialist Party are the likes of Summer Lee, Sarah Inamorato, and Elizabeth Feedler. Respectively, these ladies’ ages are 30, 32, and 37. Based on early polling data, each one appears to have a good shot at victory in a state ever-torn between red and blue. Conor Lamb, also a Democrat (though of a rather centrist than socialist bent) and also of Pennsylvanian extraction, won himself a tightly-contested special election a year ago. He did so against the incumbent Rick Saccone, a stalwart Republican, in the state’s normally conservative 18th district. On the eve of the general election to come, Lamb—whose accomplishments far exceed in number his 34 years—looks to claim for himself the seat only temporarily occupies for good. All the better—whether it acknowledges it or not—for a Democratic Party that has flung itself heedlessly to the socialist left.
It’s precisely there, emerging from the fertile ground that is Bernie Sanders’ fringe and socialist soil, that this season’s youngest and most captivating political actor can be found. Her name is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and it’s a name you’ll likely not soon mispronounce nor forget.
A veritable political parvenu--no small claim in this age of Donald Trump--Ocasio-Cortez has emerged from relative obscurity to become the darling of the Democratic Party. But a year ago, the ebullient and admittedly eyesome Ocasio-Cortez—now aged 28—was working as a bartender and waitress in New York City. Ask any number of celebrities and movie stars, and they’ll assure you, to work the taps, buff the tables, and carry entrées is no ignoble trade. Prior to that, she was a local campaign organizer for the then presidential-hopeful Bernie Sanders. Earlier still, she was a student at Boston University, graduating near the top of her class in 2011.
No stranger to auspicious starts, she was raised in relative comfort outside of Bronx’s city limits. Come to find out, as always the probing finger of the public’s curiosity will, she slightly, if not expediently misrepresented the milieu from which she came. Painted as having worn the rags of a pauper (a useful image in the minds of New Yorkers who know such an outfit only too well), she was actually raised and educated in a charmingly middle-class town. Before his untimely death, Ocasio-Cortez’s father was an architect of some regional repute. We mourn for her loss, but scorn the charade.
All that being said, Ocasio-Cortez, towering in the confidence of 28, is fluorescing at just the right time in the Democratic Party's unruly garden. In this summer’s recent primary election, she roundly shook the establishment by defeating the ten-term incumbent Joseph Crowley. Himself aged 58 (a relative youth compared with the average congressional Democrat’s age of a decade more), Crowley was expected to contend with and probably supplant the current minority speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (who's on the doorstep of 80 years old). Seen as a complacent candidate who wasn’t nearly sufficiently active in his district, Crowley was defeated by Ocasio-Cortez with overwhelming ease. Hers, and formerly, his is a "minority-majority" district (wherein ethnic minorities make up the majority of constituents) and in courting them, he was remiss. That said, hold your breath; those ten terms might be too soon for Crowley. Whispers have it that he’s preparing a third-party candidacy to reclaim what was once his. The two may yet meet again.
But it might be in vain and it might be too late. The sun might be setting, at least for the time being, on Crowley’s lengthy and distinguished political career (he ends his ascent as the fourth highest ranking member in the Democratic Party). In the likes of Ocasio-Cortez, Lamb, etc., the youth movement has begun. And while this is encouraging for those who count ourselves amongst their generation, we mustn’t forget that there’s something to be said for the wisdom and the experience that accouter age. Fresh faces are great and new ideas are novel, but we shouldn’t make the mistake of confusing the nubile for the able, nor the millennial for the sage, nor the juvenescent for the competent, nor the aged and the senescent for the dead.