Wrong Generation in Power

Western civilization has been forever governed by rich white men. Rich old men who, for the most part, have primarily been concerned with protecting their wealth and very little else. This article does not pertain with their being rich. Money will always rule because it is the lubrication of civilization, and humanity always protects its lubrication. I am primarily concerned with the age of our representatives.

The average age of senators in the 110th Congress was 60.4 years, the oldest in history. The average age of Representatives is 55 years. The average age of both houses is 56 years. Representatives must be at least 25 years old when they take office and senators 30.

Experience is a good thing. That is why there are age limits to even become a representative. As a country, we have decided we at least want adults with prior life experience to lead our country. Experience often comes at a cost of flexibility, though. If you’ve seen something done right a hundred times, you have no need or urge to change it. You are not worried about improving the procedure. You lean on tradition and the “way things used to be.”

Younger, less experienced people have the benefit of not being buried in a tradition. They can easily point out conventions that are silly and focus on how things should be now. This youth gives a flexibility to produce something new and better.

The late Strom Thurman had experience as a segregationist. In the Internet Neutrality discussions, Senator Ted Stevens thought the Internet was a series of tubes. Many of our current representatives grew up during the Cold War, when an alternate economic system was considered the worst evil in the world. How do these experiences shape decisions about today’s issues?

As a local example, I have noticed a natural progression of leadership in my fraternity. The younger members start off wide-eyed and unknowing. They soon learn the tricks and begin taking small levels of responsibility. As they mature and gain more experience, the levels of responsibility grow deeper. Soon, they are completely in charge of an important event. Shortly after, they are one of the driving forces of the fraternity.
This is where the trouble comes in. At some point in the leadership role, your goal needs to change from leading to making sure the chapter can lead itself in the near future. This is where the older members need to step down from leadership roles and start taking advisory roles. Guiding the new leaders into a confident position, instead of guiding the entire organization. Otherwise, once the older member is gone, the organization is left in chaos. I’ve seen firsthand the downward slide organizations can go through when there is not a great hand-off of leadership.

The age range of the 2008 primary candidates goes from 46 (Obama) to 77 (Gravel). This article is not encouraging you to vote for the youngest candidate. It is asking you to take a good hard look at what these candidates actually have in common with our generation. College tuition costs actually dropped in the 1970s! Compare this with our ever rising tuition. “Google” is a verb now. Text messaging has replaced passing notes. What do these candidates know of this?

The best possible solution is a flexible leader aided by older advisers. I am perfectly fine with 40-and 50-year-olds leading our country if they have enough experience combined with enough flexibility to properly confront new and old problems. The problem arises when aging leaders feel they can use past solutions for a new problem or when they defend an old and failing paradigm instead of considering the new one.

I feel the wrong generation is leading America. We need more flexibility.

  • March 26, 2008