Guest Editorials, Opinion

Haley’s ‘test’ idea a nonstarter, but America has aged leadership issue

How convenient that presidential hopeful Nikki Haley’s proposed mental-competency test for politicians would kick in at age 75 — just below the age of her only other announced Republican opponent, former President Donald Trump, and a few years below incumbent Democrat Joe Biden. Since the Constitution already specifies age criteria for federal elective office (minimum of 25 years for the House, 30 years for the Senate and 35 years for the presidency, but with no upper limit for any of them), Haley’s idea presumably couldn’t go into effect without a constitutional amendment.

In any case, the transparently self-serving proposal by Haley, 51, reportedly has already backfired with older Republican voters, a key block in the GOP. If this is an example of her political instincts on the national stage, she shouldn’t expect to last long.

Still, Haley has raised an issue that voters in both parties may soon have to confront.

Biden, 80, is already the oldest president in U.S. history. If, as expected, he runs for reelection, he would be 86 by the end of a hypothetical second term. While there has been no medical prognosis indicating loss of cognitive ability, no one who watches Biden’s speeches today could honestly deny his age is already taking a toll. And Trump’s erratic behavior seems only to be getting worse with age.

There’s much to be said for the benefits of experience, but it does seem odd that the ages of so many in the nation’s political power structure are double or more the nation’s median age (38, according to the census). More than one-sixth of the U.S. Senate is 75 or older. The oldest, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., 89, plans to retire in January 2025. The second-oldest, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, also 89, has filed for reelection in 2028.

We’re certainly not siding with CNN morning host Don Lemon, 56, who took a brief hiatus recently after opining that Haley’s idea made no sense because she’s in her 50s and “a woman is considered to be in her prime in her 20s, 30s and maybe her 40s.” His female co-hosts looked on in astonishment.

On the other hand, America is currently under the yoke of a radical-right Supreme Court in part because octogenarian Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg refused demands from fellow liberals to retire during Barack Obama’s presidency so he could appoint her replacement, then died during Trump’s presidency. Her ill-timed death and replacement by a conservative also served as the death knell for abortion rights.

As for Trump, 76, we would argue that demonstrable concerns about his psychological stability and temperament long predate any concerns about his age — but he, too, will have crossed into his 80s by the end of the next presidential term. And it’s not like those additional years are going to make him more fit for office.

This editorial first appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. This commentary should be considered another point of view and not necessarily the opinion or editorial policy of The Dominion Post.