The Young Founded the U.S. The Old Took It Over.
Todd Andrlik's postthis week in Slate on the ages of the leaders of the American Revolution was a delightful eye-opener. They were so young! Or at least many of them were. Thomas Jefferson was 33 on July 4, 1776. James Madison, 25. Alexander Hamilton, 21 (as best anyone can determine). Patrick Henry and John Adams, both 40. Paul Revere, a grizzled 41, though not quite as grizzled as that 70-year-old Ben Franklin.
The average age of the signers of the Declaration of Independence? Forty-four, and more than a dozen of them hadn't reached 36. Maybe the American obsession with youth started with the nation's birth.
Why they were so young is a subject for a whole different line of inquiry. But here's a different list -- just to compare -- of the ages of today's government leaders:
Kevin McCarthy, House majority whip, 48
Eric Cantor, House majority leader, 50
Barack Obama, president, 52
Janet Napolitano, Department of Homeland Security secretary, 55
Jack Lew, Treasury secretary, 57
John Roberts, Chief Justice, 58
Ben Bernanke, Federal Reserve chairman, 59
Eric Holder, attorney general, 62
John Boehner, House Speaker, 63
Charles Hagel, Defense secretary, 66
Richard Durbin, Senate majority whip, 68
John Kerry, Secretary of State, 69
Mitch McConnell, Senate minority leader, 71
Harry Reid, Senate majority leader, 73
Nancy Pelosi, House minority Leader, 73
Steny Hoyer, House minority whip, 74
It's pretty easy to see the big difference: Most of the Founders were in their 30s and 40s, while the crowd in charge today is in their 50s, 60s and 70s. (No, 70 is not the new 60 or 50 -- take your pick.)
The trend is that leaders in the U.S., perhaps like the country at large, are getting older. According to a report by the Congressional Research Service, the current Congress, the 113th, is the second oldest in history, surpassed only by the 111th. The average age in the House, the Aug. 5 study found, was 57, while the average in the Senate was 62.
Don't get any ideas about overthrowing this gerontocracy. Congress has considered setting retirement ages in the past. Is it any surprise they've gone nowhere?
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