Price on Politics: I just voted for the first time – I wish I voted for someone closer to my age

Price Wilborn, Commentary writer

Picture this: a nation run by people who have been in office for decades. A nation run by a legislature that has an average age of no younger than 58 years old. A nation whose chief executive is nearly 80 years old. All this in a nation that has a national average age of less than 40.

I imagine you have figured out where this is going – this does not have to be imagined. This nation is the United States of America.

According to World Population Review, the average age in the United States is 38.5 years old. The state with the oldest median population is Maine at 44.8. The youngest is Utah at 31.1. Kentucky’s median age is 39 years old and Tennessee’s is 38.8. In contrast, the US House of Representatives has a median age of 58.4 years old. The Senate has an even older average age of 64.3.

The longest currently serving senator is Patrick Leahy of Vermont. Leahy has served since 1975. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa is not far behind, having served since 1981. The two longest currently serving members of the House of Representatives – Hal Rogers of Kentucky and Chris Smith of New Jersey – have each served for 41 years.

In the past two presidential elections, the youngest candidate has been Hillary Clinton, who was 69 years old in 2016. The past two presidents we have had – Donald Trump and Joe Biden – have each been the oldest president ever elected up to that point. President Biden was 78 when he took the Oath of Office last year. To put that in perspective, King Charles III is the oldest person to ever ascend to the throne in the United Kingdom, yet he is still five years younger than the current president.

Why have I just thrown all of these numbers at you? For one simple reason: it’s past time for a new generation to take up governing. Those that have been in office for decades increasingly grow out of touch with younger generations while trying to champion issues that people my age care about.

In his inaugural address in 1961, President John F. Kennedy declared that “the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.” Kennedy represented something that his predecessor Dwight Eisenhower did not – youth, vigor and determination. Kennedy was, and still is, the youngest man ever elected president.

It is once again time for the torch to be passed; from old, out of touch men and women that are afraid of change and giving up the levers of power to young people who have a stake in the future, that care about the future and will be more representative of the American population.

This is not to say that there are no young people in office today. Republican Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina is the youngest member of Congress at 26 years old. Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is not far behind, at 31.

There should be more, though. There should be more in the House, in the Senate and in the White House.

In 2020, there were many young people vying for the nomination. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii was 39 years old. Pete Buttigieg of Indiana was 38. Beto O’Rourke was 47 and Eric Swalwell of California was 39.

Several of these young people went on to win or seek other elected office or were appointed to others. Swalwell won his reelection campaign for US House of Representatives in 2020. Buttigieg currently serves as secretary of the US Department of Transportation. O’Rourke is currently running a competitive race for the governorship of Texas.

Young people are present in politics, but they are few in number. Of this small number, even fewer are taken seriously when seeking higher elected office. This needs to change.

Many will argue that experience is needed to serve in national elected office, especially if one wishes to be president. I disagree. Nothing can prepare anyone for the life a US senator, representative or president leads. The only way they can feel comfortable in the office is having time in the office.

It is true that in the history of the United States, there have been only five presidents who have never held elected office before taking the Oath of Office: Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant, Herbert Hoover, Dwight Eisenhower and Donald Trump.

Still, nowhere in the US Constitution is it listed as a requirement for a president to have experience. Americans must be 35 years old, born in the United States and live in the nation for at least 14 years. That’s it. Those are the only requirements.

Generations older than Gen Z and Millennials have told each of these generations that they are too young, that they have no idea what they are talking about or that they need to wait until their time comes. The truth is, that we aren’t too young, we do know what we are talking about and that our time is now. In fact, it’s past time.

The United States needs to be reinvigorated. Our face to the world is a 78 year old president, an 82 year old speaker of the House, a 71 year old Senate majority leader and an 80 year old Senate minority (that last one is Kentucky’s own Mitch McConnell).

Domestically, we look tired. We look like a nation that has well passed our prime because of the tired, old policies we have and the old politicians who will not let go.

Globally, we look weak. We look like a nation that does not have things together because we cannot keep up with the times.

It’s time for this to change, and it is the younger generations that will be on the frontlines.

And we are ready.

Commentary writer Price Wilborn can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @pricewilborn.