Gongol.com Archives: May 2023

Brian Gongol

May 16, 2023

News Showing up and doing the work

Everyone follows one of exactly two courses in life: One either grows older or one dies. There are no options to go in the other direction. In a youth-worshipping culture like America's, it's all too easy to conjoin perceptions of aging with expectations of decline. ■ That isn't universally the case; Norman Borlaug worked into his 90s. Benjamin Franklin was 81 at the Constitutional Convention. Frederick Douglass remained a tireless social crusader until he was nearly 80. It's possible for people to do many great things as they advance. ■ It is vital that we separate our assumptions about age from our expectations of capacity, so that we don't make prejudicial decisions about either the old or the young. But it is also essential that we don't use age -- either the freshness of youth or the weathering of seniority -- as an excuse, either. There should be no free passes based on chronology alone. ■ A political journalist for the Los Angeles Times -- a mainstream journalistic institution -- reports that California Senator Diane Feinstein, interviewed briefly just days after her return to the Capitol after a months-long absence, responded to questions about that return by saying, "I haven't been gone. You should...I haven't been gone. I've been working [...] I've been here." ■ Without being cruel or uncompassionate, we can acknowledge that this kind of exchange, especially when documented as part of a pattern, casts meaningful doubt on the Senator's ability to discharge the duties of office. It is cruel for anyone to say, "She is too old and thus she must go". But it is another kind of cruelty to put her in a position of high expectations if she doesn't possess the stamina or the capacity to do so. ■ In a representative democracy, the public depends upon the judgment and diligence of the people sent to make decisions on the voters' behalf. In the words of Edmund Burke, "Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment". In no other institution do we have higher expectations for judgment than in the United States Senate; it ought to be the place where each state sends the two wisest, most capable decision-makers they can find among them. ■ Some Senators plainly are up to the task and are tireless in giving the republic their best. Others fail to take that charge seriously and would quite obviously rather be doing other things. And some simply don't have the capacities to carry out duties in full. It's lazy to reduce any of those evaluations to merely a measurement of age. But it's also ill-advised to make either seniority or youth an excuse for holding decision-makers in office without holding them to an adequate standard of performance.

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