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EDITORIAL

Democrats, the other grand <i>old</i> party

With US Senator Bernie Sanders, 76, among one of the most visible figures on the political left, it’s hard for younger Democrats to break through.
With US Senator Bernie Sanders, 76, among one of the most visible figures on the political left, it’s hard for younger Democrats to break through.Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press

MULLING THE AGE COHORT of Democratic party leadership brings to mind a line from T.S. Eliot: “I grow old . . . I grow old . . . I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.”

When it comes to stars, this is a party of senior citizens. According to a recent CCN poll, Joe Biden, 75, leads the pack of would-be Democratic presidential contenders. Biden is followed by Senator Bernie Sanders, 76 — an independent who, in 2016, challenged Hillary Clinton, now 70, in Democratic primaries and caucuses. Behind Sanders is Senator Elizabeth Warren, 68.

At this point, voter polling preferences essentially reflect name recognition. For Democrats, the best-known are Medicare eligible. Given their elders’ grip on the party and its money, younger Democrats will find it tough to break through. And those who dare can expect to be called out by cranky oldsters. Locally, former US representative Barney Frank is so horrified by a bid from Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley, 44, to unseat longtime incumbent congressman Michael Capuano, 66, that he labels it “politics at its most egotistical.”

For Democrats, the bright spot is that when it comes to issues, they have youth on their side. A majority of millennials — 59 percent — affiliate with the Democratic party or lean Democratic, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. Also, according to Pew polling, a majority of millennials — 57 percent — hold liberal or mostly liberal positions. For example, 60 percent believe government has a responsibility to provide health coverage for all. Close to 80 percent of white millennials say immigrants do more to strengthen than burden the country. Add to that the activism that has broken out among young people after the horrific high school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

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Young blood can flush out the party’s old, withered arteries. However, the primary pump already seems primed to process the same old suspects. After Biden and President Trump trash-talked each other, jokes broke out about a septuagenarian smackdown that could end with a 2020 presidential showdown.

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What a bummer that would be for Democrats. At 71, Trump, has been around. But, Biden has been around even longer. In November 2020, the former vice president will be turning 78. If he won, he would be turning 82 at the end of his first term in office. With all due respect to Biden’s legendary resilience, that’s old. Some might say too old. To be sworn in as president, you must be at least 35 years old. But there’s no limit on how old you can be. In 2016, Sanders proved a senior citizen can connect with the younger generation. He won more votes among those under age 30 than Trump or Clinton.

Ultimately, voters will decide when it’s time for the party to pass the torch. To do it, they have to be able to hear the voices of the young. Those lines written by Eliot about aging, after all, were first published in 1915, the year the poet turned 27.