By Sophie Foster
In October 2020, after appearing in the United States Capitol Building with puffed and bruised hands, Kentucky Senator and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell brusquely dismissed questions from journalists inquiring about his health.
Now, nearly three years later, Sen. McConnell continues to dodge questions that may reveal concerning realities about his wellbeing.
According to Time, Sen. McConnell froze twice during press conferences over the summer, apparently unable to speak and requiring an escort away from the podium.
Though cleared by Capitol Physician Brian P. Monahan to continue working, according to The Washington Post, “there were and continue to be health challenges, but his answers [now] are only marginally more revealing than they were three years ago.”
Sen. McConnell, who is not slated to conclude his tenure in the Senate until at least the end of his current term in 2027, when he will be 84 years old, did not struggle to win reelection in Kentucky in 2020 despite his medical incidents. The Senate Republicans continued that pattern by reaffirming their vote for his senate minority leadership without visible concern about his repeated health crises. In fact, after six weeks away from the Senate after a fall that caused broken ribs and a concussion, he returned to an ovation, according to The Washington Post.
Persistently, Sen. McConnell refuses to field or pay any mind to questions pertaining to his falls or freezes. He refuses to elaborate, he refuses to clarify, and he refuses to retire.
“I’m going to finish my term as leader, and I’m going to finish my Senate term,” Sen. McConnell told reporters at a recent news conference.
While there is no evidence Sen. McConnell experienced strokes or seizures, it is not without merit to note that he battled polio as a child. According to The Washington Post, federal research suggests that about 40% of childhood polio survivors experience muscle weakness, atrophy, and balance issues in elderly life.
Sen. McConnell, though, is not alone in the club of high-profile political figures experiencing public bouts of physical unwellness. California Senator Dianne Feinstein, at 90 years old, recently turned power of attorney over to her daughter after a moment on the Senate floor in which she launched into remarks mid-vote and a battle with shingles that resulted in brain swelling, according to CBS and The Washington Post, respectively.
President Joe Biden himself consistently faces health-related criticism after numerous falls and moments of public confusion, according to The New York Times. He nonetheless announced an intent to run for reelection despite the fact that, if elected, he would be 86 at the end of his second term in the presidency.
Meanwhile, according to Axios, 77% of Americans believe there should be a maximum age limit for the nation’s elected officials. This issue appears to achieve the rare and coveted bipartisan support: 76% of Democrats and 79% of Republicans agreed upon the need for these limits. Additionally, 78% of respondents agreed that the majority of legislators past the age of 75 “[r]aise concerns about [an elected official’s] ability to perform their job” and an even higher 80% said elected officials over 75 would “[r]isk being out of touch with the times.”
Today, 16 U.S. Senators are older than 75, and 18 more are between the ages of 70 and 74. Comparably, 43 U.S. House Representatives are older than 75, with 42 more being between 70 and 74.
This is an alarming side-by-side. The tendency from the government to tread more and more unabashedly in territory found unpopular among the vast majority of the U.S. public is unsurprising but certainly potentially very dangerous in its implications about the state of American democratic principles.
If elected officials are allowed to deprioritize the ideals professed by the vast majority of the American public, it begs the question of what, exactly, the point of elections is to them. If not to make selections about representation based in demonstrated ability to represent fairly and accurately, then what is the intent of these officials’ legislative power?
If legislators want to be adequate representations of their constituents, it is time to vote to impose term limits reflective of age restrictions, and it is time for sitting leaders to step down and leave room for those more able to represent.
The question remains of what will come of the older generation of elected officials as the country moves progressively close to the 2024 election cycle. Regardless, the need for more voter-aligned policies in American legislative practices is clear. It is well beyond time for new faces in U.S. political networks.
Photo caption: Mitch McConnell has had several public health scares in the past few years of his term.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons