Jan 25, 2007

Chamber of geezers

Average age of senators is 62.
The issue is increasingly relevant today, considering the current Senate's advanced age, particularly among its leaders. Byrd, Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii -- Numbers 1, 3 and 4, respectively, among the longest-serving senators -- have been in the Senate more than 40 years each. And each chairs an important committee at an age when most people are retired: Byrd holds the gavel at Appropriations, Kennedy, 74, at Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and Inouye, 82, at Commerce, Science and Transportation.

"People don't like to talk about age," said Boston University history professor Julian E. Zelizer. "It's not a political taboo, but a cultural one. We're respectful of the elderly." To raise the issue in a political context, Zelizer continued, is even more fraught with difficulty because any discussion of the office-holding elderly portends a conversation about that which is even more awkward -- mortality. The subject of death is especially acute in the Senate, "where individuals matter," as Zelizer diplomatically put it.

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