Democrats--the Party of Geezers

Ed Markey. Is this face what's wrong with the Democratic Party? 

In Massachusetts, a June 25 special election will fill John Kerry’s U.S. Senate seat. Recent polls give Democrat Ed Markey a 7% lead over his Republican challenger Gabriel Gomez and the fact that it’s not double that ought to give Democrats pause. The party apparatus has been out in force for Markey, but an indication of the tepidness of Markey’s support can be found in recent campaign ads attacking the Republican Party rather than Gomez directly.

As a Bay State resident, I get daily emails telling me what a wonderful “progressive” Ed Markey is and telling me how terrible it would be if the Senate fell to the Republicans. Call it where scare tactics meet running scared. Like many in Massachusetts, I agree that the current G.O.P. is a collection of Troglodytes, though Gomez doesn’t seem to be among them. (The Republican Party hasn’t endorsed him, which is actually a backdoor recommendation!) I won’t vote for Gomez, but I just can’t get juiced about Markey–25 years ago, maybe, but not now. I see Ed Markey as symptomatic of all that’s wrong with the Democratic Party, as well as what could go terribly awry in the future. Markey is too old, he’s been in Congress since 1976, and he’s amassed a record (as opposed to his stump speeches) that suggests he’s more of a lukewarm liberal than a progressive. 

Currently the Democratic Party holds a rather substantial advantage among voters of all age groups, but party faithful need to change the demographics or that won’t last. Generation X, the cohort that grew up with Reagan, is the best bet going for the Republicans, whose core support is ages 38 to 45. Not coincidentally, Gomez is 47 and he speaks to Gen X concerns such as aggressive foreign policy and tax cuts. Democrats enjoy a huge advantage of nearly 3:1 with voters under 25, but can they keep Generation Y? Maybe not if they don’t start acting like real progressives instead of just assuming the label. And maybe not if they keep throwing Baby Boomers like Markey out there. Is it a “youth” strategy to get a 67-year-old to replace the 69-year-old John Kerry? Baby Boomers are almost as enthusiastic about Democrats as Generation Y, but do you want to build a future on that key 65 to 82 constituency? 

Lest anyone accuse me of ageism, I am a Baby Boomer. I’m no math genius, but I can do basic arithmetic. What does it tell you when President Obama will be younger when he leaves the White House than any of the current pretenders to the throne would be if they took the oath of office in January of 2017. Lots of people are jonesing for Hillary Clinton to run in 2016. Ironically, many of them argued back in 1980 that Ronald Reagan was too old for the Oval Office. He was 69 when he entered the White House–exactly the same age Hillary would be.

It’s even more dire when one looks at other party leaders: Harry Reid is 74, Nancy Pelosi is 73, Joe Biden is 71, Dick Durbin is 69, and even Charles Schumer is 63. The Democrats have a serious lack of imagination when it comes to age. Remember when the party recruited then-74-year-old Walter Mondale to challenge Norm Coleman for the U.S. Senate in 2002? Coleman won, then lost to Al Franken in 2008, but he’s still 11 years younger than Mondale was in 2002. The Democrats also tried (unsuccessfully) to convince George McGovern to run against John Thune in 2005, even though McGovern was a dying man. More recently the Democrats lost a Senate seat–at least temporarily–when New Jersey’s Frank Lautenberg died. Lautenberg retired from the Senate at age 77 back in 2001, but was lured back to the fold to defeat Troglodyte Jon Corzine in 2003. One can applaud that victory, but what’s Lautenberg still doing in the Senate at 89, his age at death? New Jersey's Republican Governor Chris Christie, age 51, has already appointed a temporary senator. He's a younger Republican.

Chris Christie is emblematic of a potential G.O.P. age advantage. Look at some others–Bobby Jindal and Mario Rubio are 42, Paul Ryan is 43, Minority Whip Kevin McCarthy is 48, and Eric Cantor is 50. Hell, even 64-year-old John Boehner is a spring chicken by Democratic standards! Do the Democrats have any non-geriatric stars of their own? A few, though most lack national name recognition. Probably the best known is Andrew Cuomo (55), though he might not be as electable as Maryland’s Michael O’Malley (50). With all due respect to Hillary Clinton, I submit that those looking for the first female president and want her to be a Democrat should let Hillary retire now that she’s 65, and get behind either Amy Klobuchar (53) or Kristen Gillibrand (46). Heck, even 63-year-old Elizabeth Warren would be more youthful. But whatever they do, Democrats need to realize that the hands of time only turn in one direction.

Rob Weir

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