US Political System Frozen by Soviet-Style ‘Aging Crisis’
WASHINGTON (Sputnik) - The leaders of the United States are aging with no replacement in sight amid unbreakable political gridlock, reminiscent of the conditions prior to the fall of another superpower three decades ago, experts told Sputnik.
Last week, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, now 83, announced she would run for reelection again next year, while Senator Diane Feinstein, 90, continues to sit in the Senate with no thought of retirement even though her own daughter took power of attorney to pay her bills. Last week, 81-year-old Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, addressing concerns about his health following episodes of freezing in public, vowed to finish out his term.
In addition, a recent CNN poll revealed 75% of Americans are concerned about US President Joe Biden’s age and mental competence, while 67% of Democrats do not want him to run again.
Constitutional historian Dan Lazare suggested these developments are part of a generational illness afflicting an out-of-touch US governing elite that stayed too long in power, not unlike what happened to the Soviet Union during the 1980s, when the Kremlin was plainly at a loss in responding to a declining economy and dysfunctional political system.
"Basically, the United States is caught in a Soviet-style age crisis," Lazare said. "Remember what [former US President] Ronald Reagan said? When asked why he didn't talk with Soviet leaders, he replied: 'Because they keep dying on me.' He was right."
However, while Reagan's line got a good laugh, Lazare added, the joke is on the United States with elderly lawmakers feebly holding on to Senate seats, not to mention Biden’s "growing senility."
"After one superpower descended into gerontocracy, how is it that another one is doing the same thing 40 years later? The answer to this question is political gridlock," Lazare said. "Everyone is terrified of what change might mean."
Deepening gridlock has led to 30 years of trench warfare on Capitol Hill, Lazare pointed out. And thanks to this deadlock, the lineup barely shifts from one year to the next, he added.
However, Lazare warned, history has proven this cannot go on forever. In the Soviet Union, he explained, the "ice eventually broke" with the appointment of premier Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985 - but the change came too late.
"The ice will eventually break in the United States as well, but the results could be just as explosive," Lazare said.
Vested Interests Resist Change
The experts argued that the US age crisis is unlikely to be resolved any time soon, especially when control of the White House and Congress is at stake.
Lazare said Democratic Party leaders right now are especially vulnerable to exacerbating the age crisis by backing Biden regardless of the ramifications or opposition within his own party.
For Democrats frightened that former President Donald Trump would chew them up and spit them out, the message to Biden is to hold on "at all costs," Lazare said. Trump, although wounded, is still alive and appears energized - especially compared to his opponent, he noted.
"If Donald Trump still seems hale and hearty, it's because he's only 77," he said. "In terms of American politics, that's practically a kid."
In way of other examples, Lazare said a Feinstein resignation could set off a bruising intra-party battle among Congress members. So Democrats would prefer that Feinstein hold on until the end of her term so voters can decide matters at the polls in 2024.
The Republicans, in turn, Lazare added, have McConnell supporters who are worried that if he steps down, Democratic Governor Andy Beshear will try to defy a 2021 state law requiring him to appoint another Republican to take his place.
As a remedy to the situation, California State University Professor Emeritus of Political Science Beau Grosscup said the United States urgently needed to pass age limits for top public officials - but the power of established interests was too great.
Grosscup said the crisis reveals the degree to which seniority in Congress matters - including party leadership and the control of the committee system. The old so far wield institutional power to choose those they approve of - and they tend to choose their age-old friends, he added.
"It also reveals the institutional pushback to the progressive agenda on issues of civil rights, patriarchy [and] what those younger politicians, especially as advocates of a changing world, face as they climb-up the institutional ladder," Grosscup told Sputnik. "[It is] the war between generations."
Retired Brown University assistant professor of economics Barry Friedman said the United States now needed additional preventive safeguards to counteract the undue influence of seniority in politics as well as other sectors like the military and economy. The established interests, Friedman warned, are blocking the emergence into the spotlight of newer and better - but perhaps riskier - faces and ideas.