The American political system is based on age.One only needs to be 25 years old to run for the House of Representatives, but one must be 35 to be president.
But though these are restrictions of minimum age, requirements clearly do not mean that you have to be an old (man) to be elected to office. At my current age of 21, I am old enough to be a state Representative; in my home state of Kansas, I could have run three years ago. I would be unlikely to win, but I could run.
It may seem that candidates are rarely anywhere near the age minimums, but it does happen, and it has happened recently. Former President Bill Clinton was elected Arkansas’s governor in 1978 at the age of 32, barely meeting age requirements, to become Arkansas’ youngest governor since 1938.
So while our political system may seem to be dominated by geezers, that is far from the case.
And even if it were, it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.
Yes, youth is necessary, providing an infusion of new ideas and high energy into old, dead politics. But the young are also changeable, untried and unknowledgeable.
It is important that politicians work their way up, establish their political views, and begin to understand their voting base. This gives them an opportunity to really learn how the political world works and to establish precedents that voters can look at.
Conscientious voters, though perhaps not the norm in the United States, want to look at a politician’s actual record before they choose which candidate to vote for. After all, a candidate can say he or she is for anything, but what they actually do when it comes time to vote is far more indicative of their actual beliefs and practices.
Imagine that I am running for the Kansas State House of Representatives: I am 21 years old and about to graduate from an out-of-state college with no experience in government office. I have few qualifications and have only voted in one presidential election.
Furthermore, though I meet Kansas residency requirements, I have been out of state for the majority of the last four years and know little-to-nothing about the state itself or its people, especially of those areas outside of the richest county in Kansas, Johnson County (Johnson County is certainly not representative of the state at large).
And at this point in my life, it would be difficult for concerned voters to determine which way I would vote on any issue – it would be difficult for me to determine that.
Right now I can say, for example, that I am for the environment, that I think the rainforest should be saved, alternative fuels should be found, gas should be conserved, and loggers should not be able to move into protected lands, but in an actual vote I may discover that I don’t actually support the ideals I have been touting. Perhaps I cave under pressure; perhaps I vote along party lines; perhaps I just plain change my mind.
How is the populace to know what I’ll do if they’ve never seen me in action? And should they take that chance?
The obvious truth is that I am simply not old enough to run for large-scale office. Maybe I could be useful in city or county government, but as a State Representative, I would be disastrous – even though I meet age requirements. I would definitely need more time under my belt.
Finally, all considerations of time and experience aside, young voters are apathetic. They rarely vote. If I were to run for office at my age, perhaps I could attract a younger population, but the sad truth is that a much larger percentage of my youth voters would be unlikely to turn out than the percentage of my opponent’s voter base. Instead, I would have to find a way to appeal to older voters. And how would I do that when it is clear that older voters are not rash enough to vote for someone my age – someone who does not represent their interests, and furthermore is inexperienced and untried?
In most cultures, the old have been revered for their age and wisdom. This may be something we are losing in the United States, to our detriment. Surely, older politicians should have to meet standards of strength of mind and body (after all, we do not want someone with Alzheimer’s or someone who is likely to die in office), but they should not be forced out merely due to old age.
Instead, we should strive to find a balance in politics between the old and the young. In that way, we can have the benefit of both the wisdom and experience of age, and of the new ideas and vivacity of youth.
Opinion editor Stephanie Weaver is an English, philosophy and French major from Westwood, Kan. She is not currently planning to run for office.