Friday, February 23, 2018

A Modest Proposal

(With apologies to Jonathan Swift.)

In a hail of bullets, students at the Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida were thrust into the role of activists. Within hours, it became clear that they were to become the most determined, effective, and articulate public citizens we have seen in our country in a very long time.

The fact that they were responding to a terror attack in our most politically benighted state made their achievements all the more remarkable. They drew attention to Senator Marco Rubio's misplaced priorities more effectively than anybody of my generation has done, shaming him into endorsing a reduced limit on ammunition magazines. They caused the famously inflexible Gov. Rick "Skeletor" Scott to make a small concession on the question of whether someone too young to buy a Bud Light should be able to buy an assault rifle. The even convinced the president of the United States to speak out in favor of universal background checks, so that terrorists would no longer be able to hide behind private gun sales, and a ban on bump stocks. It remains to be seen whether any of these statements were sincere, and whether they will be enacted while Wayne LaPierre still walks the earth and signs the big checks.

But these young people moved the debate on gun violence, and were not intimidated by the scurrilous smear campaigns that predictably ensued. Politicians who are known to be on the industry payroll had the nerve to suggest that these young people were being paid to speak, as if watching the deaths of their friends and siblings and teachers were not enough. They watched as their state legislators ignored their pleas and their courage, voting down all relevant legislation before voting to codify the empty rhetoric of "thoughts and prayers" in the form of a clearly unconstitutional requirement to install "In God We Trust" signs in all of the schools of the Sunshine State.
Image: New York Times
All of this has me thinking about the voting age. When the Founders of our nation established ages for voting and for holding certain offices, they could not have foreseen the Baby Boomers. There have been more of us than any prior or subsequent generation, and we have made some pretty big mistakes. We have allowed voting districts to be gerrymandered to the very limits of mathematics, ensuring the repeated election of people who are not only unqualified for the jobs they hold, but in some cases not honest enough to hold any job I can think of.

We have allowed -- nay, encouraged -- those politicians to be ruled by the political fetishes of Grover Norquist, a privileged, unelected counter-patriot who somehow gained the allegiance of both major parties, resulting in broken infrastructure, unfunded education, declining life expectancy, and the increasing concentration of wealth.

The Parkland youth are setting an example of
civic engagement for all of us. 
In short, as a group we have had our chance at governing the country, and we have not shown ourselves very capable. If Lincoln is to have his wish that "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth" we need to do something drastic.

Which leads to my proposal.

The 26th Amendment was passed in 1971, when Boomers were showing our political prowess and actually getting some things done (shortening wars, cleaning the environment, broadening civil rights). It lowered the minimum voting age from 21 to 18, though it left the maximum voting age in place, because the problem of a completely dysfunctional electorate was not foreseen.

It is time to lower the minimum again, and to impose a maximum. Some local elections are already open to 16 year olds, and I would support making that the minimum for federal elections. I think a maximum of 35 or 40 would be appropriate, so that people with a bit more life experience are included, while still avoiding the excesses of the Baby Boomers. At the very most, voting should not be extended to those born prior to 1965.

As for the age restrictions on federal office, I would lower the minimums by 5 years and make the maximum age double the minimum age. So, instead of:

  • Congress Critter: currently eligible from 25 until promised bribes and kickbacks have accumulated to ensure a seven-figure income for life
  • Senator: currently eligible from 30 through rigor mortis
  • President: currently eligible from 35 until golf or brush-clearing consumes every waking moment
... I would suggest:
  • Congressional Representative: 20 to 40
  • Senator: 25 to 50
  • President: 30 to 60 (but this would make me eligible, so we'd better keep this at 52 until the Boomers have aged a bit more)
Under this scheme, those of a certain age can participate, just as those under 18 do now. We can pose in photos when our children or students run for office, we can hold signs on street corners or stuff envelopes. Our financial involvement would need to be similarly limited: donating no more to a campaign than we can carry to a campaign rally in coins with our bare hands, like a kid donating their allowance.

#28thAmendment 

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