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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Reprinted with permission from Creators.

Some may wonder why the Senate takes time to act after the Los Vegas shooting tragedy. Some say it’s the powerful gun lobby.

But have I got news for you.

The reason the Senate moves glacially is because its arteries are clogged — literally. Under the shiny white Capitol dome is a country for old men. The body politic needs an infusion of fresh blood. The old nickname, “the Plantation,” still fits.

Indeed, it’s a perfect place to age, with Italianate murals, beveled mirrors and formal doorkeepers. Senators don’t even push their own elevator buttons. One frail Southerner uses a cane or a wheelchair. The Senate dining room is gracious as can be.

So let the truth out. Psst: The plush Senate is the leading old age home in this fair land of ours — or, I should say, senior community. Seven of the most powerful senators are 80 or over. There will be eight octogenarians when hoary Thad Cochran of Mississippi, 79, turns 80 on Dec. 7. The longer you stick around for six-year terms, the higher your station.

Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, the feisty Vermonter, is quixotically planning a second run for president. He just turned 76, but he can bellow by the Ohio Clock with the best of them. His long-lost Brooklyn cousin, Larry David, 70, is returning to his HBO show, playing himself as a sour old single guy, “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” I can hardly wait.

The folly of old men running the country is clearest when you consider Donald Trump, 71, is the oldest president ever. And frankly, he looks it.

Here’s the thing. Seven of the eight oldest senators are Republicans. The one Democrat, California’s Dianne Feinstein, is the Senate elder at 84. She wears it well and remains effective as an expert on the judiciary and intelligence. “DiFi” just may run for re-election. Why not? The grand old member of the House, John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., is 88. He was once endorsed by his friend Martin Luther King Jr. Nancy Pelosi, House Democratic Leader from a California, has a spring in her stylish step at 77.

But at 81, Senator John McCain looks aged and keeps on despite a brain tumor — the same kind that killed Senator Edward Kennedy at 77. A free spirit, McCain commands respect on both sides of the aisle, like Feinstein. They are the giants of the Senate. But there were more when the oaks weren’t ancient.

Senate historian Betty Koed tells me the average age has been steadily climbing.

Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is 83, and moves like a handsome tall statue. Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), whose accent cuts the air, is 84. He shepherded arch-conservative Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Richard Shelby of Alabama, Pat Roberts of Kansas and James Inhofe of Oklahoma are all Republicans in their 80s. What have they done for democracy lately? A vigorous 82, Inhofe chairs the Environment and Public Works committee, as chief climate change denier.

Austere Republican Arkansan Tom Cotton is 40. He quipped, “When I get to work, I feel young again.”

I got luckier than I knew to cover giants as a rookie reporter: Senators Kennedy, Robert C. Byrd, Dale Bumpers and Robert Dole. Bumpers could have played Atticus Finch and Byrd dearly loved the Roman Senate. War-wounded Dole, the dry wit from Kansas, exemplified “the greatest generation.”

Koed notes 64 senators are 60 or older. That’s right around the Social Security retirement age for everyone else. They are, of course, exempt from that law.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s not always sleepy around here. Bright minds walk the halls in their 60s and 70s. The Senate leadership has all their marbles. Richard Burr, R-N.C, a descendent of Aaron Burr, 61, turns a few heads. As Intelligence committee head, he leads the Russian investigation.

The larger point about ossified octogenarians: They stand squarely in the way of progress, with plum chairmanships and perk hideaways in the Capitol. They don’t leave once their lifework is done. The angry old man in the White House is another case in point.

As we look on, this hurts and cheats younger political talent — and the nation.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.