by Daniel J. Flynn
When asked on Wednesday whether he planned to run for reelection in 2026, Mitch McConnell did not answer. Except that he did. The 81-year-old’s half minute of almost catatonic silence served as a loud “no.”
On Thursday, the Capitol physician described the Senate minority leader as “medically clear.” The doctor did not state that McConnell’s March concussion caused the incident — or the similar zone-out that occurred last month — but the peculiar wording of the statement may lead readers to draw that conclusion.
While McConnell appears otherwise lucid, his age and this second episode of his plug slipping out of its socket spur calls for him to resign from his leadership position.
“Severe aging health issues and/or mental health incompetence in our nation’s leaders MUST be addressed,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted. “Biden, McConnell, Feinstein, and Fetterman are examples of people who are not fit for office and it’s time to be serious about it.”
The message separate from the messenger seems difficult to dismiss. Greene may grind an axe here — one perhaps dulled by the realization that not Josh Hawley but John Thune likely replaces McConnell — but cognitive difficulties appear as real problems, as they did in the sclerotic Eastern Bloc prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, for American leaders. People whose health concerns would force retirement or disability for lower-profile jobs refuse to yield their positions.
Dianne Feinstein requires ventriloquists on her payroll and in the Senate to provide her words. Fetterman struggles with talking as though a foreign-language speaker and frequently makes bizarre utterances. Joe Biden shakes hands with invisible people and relied on an aide in a bunny costume to protect him from his own mouth at the White House Easter egg roll in the spring.
Republicans arguing against a Biden second term based on his own age-related problems undermine their point by supporting a man older than the president leading their party in the Senate. While Biden’s mental impediments may not primarily animate the opposition of hardcore conservatives, they stand as a red flag for independents (and even some Democrats). In other words, the issue resonates with normal people not immersed in politics. A poll commissioned by the Associated Press reported earlier this week that 77 percent of Americans regard Biden as too old to be effective in a second term as president. If Biden is too old to serve until 2029, then what does that say about an older man serving in the Senate through 2032?
Ultimately, age serves here as shorthand for competence. Next month, the Rolling Stones, led by an octogenarian in Mick Jagger, release an album and presumably tour to promote it. Clint Eastwood continues to make great films, with most of his best ones coming out after he became a senior citizen. Charlie Munger, who turns 100 in a few months, always draws an attentive crowd when he opens his mouth. Earlier this year, he told one, “For the first 99 years I’ve gotten by without doing any exercise at all.”
How old is the Senate minority leader? Old enough to have contracted polio and attended Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. His career in Washington began in the Ford administration. McConnell won election to the Senate in 1984. Later this month he surpasses Fritz Hollings — remember the days when Democrats joked of African diplomats getting a square meal in Geneva rather than practicing cannibalism at home and of putting a mushroom cloud on a T-shirt that read “made in America … tested in Japan”? — to become the 12th longest-serving senator. No Republican has led the party in the Senate for as long as McConnell.
Is it not time for him to let the younger generation lead? Unlike Republicans remembering Senate leader Howard Baker for helping Jimmy Carter give away the Panama Canal, McConnell’s primary legacy remains a positive one. Through guts and brains, he did more than anyone else to give Donald Trump three nominations to the U.S. Supreme Court instead of one. That stands out as the main remembrance. Should he violate the Hollywood for Ugly People rule of leaving the audience wanting more rather than less, he risks leaving a last impression that clouds that.
But more so than personal legacies, McConnell, Biden, and others need to think about their legacy to this country. Other than Barack Obama’s eight-year interregnum, politicians born in the 1940s have served as president of the United States since 1993. They did not leave the country better than they found it. Give someone else a try.
Moses lived until 120. Others involved in legislation should not delude themselves into thinking they carry on for that long.
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Daniel J. Flynn, a senior editor of The American Spectator, is the author of Cult City: Harvey Milk, Jim Jones, and 10 Days That Shook San Francisco (ISI Books, 2018), The War on Football (Regnery, 2013), Blue Collar Intellectuals (ISI Books, 2011), A Conservative History of the American Left (Crown Forum, 2008), Intellectual Morons (Crown Forum, 2004), and Why the Left Hates America (Prima Forum, 2002). His articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, New York Post, City Journal, National Review, and his own website, www.flynnfiles.com.
Photo “Mitch McConnell” by Mitch McConnell.