It’s a common hazard for people of advanced age: many elderly people are unsteady on their feet and brittle of bone, and they end up falling and breaking a hip. According to a study published by the National Library of Medicine, “some reports show that up to 50% of patients with hip fracture die within six months and many of those who survive do not recover their baseline independence and function.” Those who are unfortunate enough to suffer this generally need extensive care and are unable to perform even the most basic tasks.
Among them today is Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Bernie Sanders), who as president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate is third in the line of succession for the presidency, right behind Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Tito’s Handmade). Leahy will undergo emergency surgery, but there’s no hint that he is even considering resigning. It’s just another day in America’s woke gerontocracy.
Patrick Leahy is 82 years old. When he was born, Walt Disney’s Pinocchio was the big film in the theaters; Disney has changed a bit since then. I would tell you what the number-one single was the week he was born, but the Billboard number-one singles chart didn’t start until later that year. Leahy was born a few months before the Democrats nominated President Franklin Delano Roosevelt for a third term, a move that has not been possible since the 22nd Amendment limited the president to two terms in 1951.
Leahy was born a few weeks before Nazi Germany began its invasion of France and a year and a half before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He first won a Senate seat in 1974, when Kamala Harris was in elementary school, as part of the Democrat wave that followed the Watergate scandal and the resignation of President Richard Nixon.
Leahy has been holding the line against those dastardly Republicans and new Watergates ever since, but his office announced Thursday: “This morning, Sen. Leahy will undergo surgery to repair a broken hip that he suffered as a result from a fall at his house in McLean, Virginia, Wednesday night.” Leahy’s office was anxious to counter the notion that the fall was a result of Leahy’s advanced age: “Having been born blind in one eye, the Senator has had a lifelong struggle with reduced depth perception. He has taken some remarkable dingers over the years but this one finally caught up with him.”
Well, all right. But I myself am twenty-two years younger than Leahy and, like him, blind in one eye, and while sometimes I have some spectacular mishaps pouring coffee, I haven’t yet fallen and broken a hip. As I get older, that becomes an increasing possibility, but whatever impression Leahy’s office may want to give, falling and breaking a hip is still very much a feature of getting very old, both for people with one eye and people with two.
My PJM colleague Jeff Reynolds commented: “Okay, if we can’t have term limits, can we at least have terms that end with the breaking of a hip?” Good idea. Patrick Leahy has no business continuing to serve in the Senate. Nor does Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California SSR), who is 89 and the subject of increasing concern about her mental acuity. And Leahy and Feinstein are just two of the gerontocrats who now dominate Washington: Pelosi is 82. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is 71. House Judiciary Committee chair Jerry Nadler is 75. All of them are Democrats, but Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is 88 and has no more business still being in office than the rest of them. Oh, and Old Joe Biden is 79.
What does it say about America that so much of its senior leadership is senior in all senses of the word? It says that the “public service” in the United States today is so comfortable and lucrative that people can’t bring themselves to surrender the reins of power once they get them. The reason why America is turning into a gerontocracy is the same reason why six of the fifteen richest counties in the country are in Virginia and Maryland, right outside Washington, D.C.
Public service in the United States has become a lucrative exercise in mutual back-slapping, with numerous well-heeled lobbies eager to pay a cash-strapped Congressman outlandish speaker’s fees after he gets them what they want on the legislative floor. And once you’ve climbed aboard the gravy train, it’s hard to get off.
What would happen if the amount of money a politician could earn while in office were sharply curtailed by statute? I would wager that there would be an immediate sharp decrease in the number of elected officials who are liable to fall and break a hip.