“If at eighty,” novelist Henry Miller wrote, “… you’ve your quality of life if you still enjoy a good walk, a great meal (with all the trimmings), when you can sleep without first taking a pill, if birds and flowers, mountains and sea still inspire you, you’re a most fortunate individual, and you must get down on your knees morning and night and thank the great Lord for his saving and keeping power.”
Similar thoughts about being – or soon becoming – an octogenarian must arrive at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who’s 82; former President Donald Trump, who’s 76; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who’s 80. And President Joe Biden, who turns 80 today. All were in the news headlines the other day, using their political futures at issue.
Pelosi thought we would step down as leader of her party after it narrowly lost control of the House. Trump announced he’s running for president again. McConnell fended off difficulties to his GOP Senate leadership. And Biden, whose party scored an unexpectedly good performance in the midterms, has said he’ll decide next few months whether to make good on his intention of running again in 2024.
“The verve and drive of older leaders are admirable at an age when many people are long retired – and an illustration to society that older people are simply as capable and worthy as younger generations,” wrote Stephen Collinson for CNN Politics. “Yet the prominence of the seventy-and-eighty somethings at the surface of the political tree also raises questions about whether it is healthy that younger politicians are not currently taking more responsibility or have more power in American history.”
In corporate America, “genius” is usually seen instead for the knowledge of age. Elon Musk, a 51-year-old who’s the wealthiest person on earth, has been called a pro for his entrepreneurial skill at Tesla and SpaceX and even for his ambition to visit Mars. Yet “Musk’s actions since overpowering Twitter on October 27 have already been so destructive to the platform’s functioning and reputation that the question is raised of whether, as opposed to being truly a genius, Musk is, in fact, an idiot,” wrote Michael Hiltzik in the Los Angeles Times. “Perhaps that’s extreme. But it’s proper to examine how and why someone so unquestionably successful in his business career has gone off the rails now.”
While others are leaving Twitter (read Roxanne Jones’recent take), David Perry would love to stay. “Twitter changed my life in sublime and ridiculous ways, profound, beautiful, professional and sadly often terrible,” he observed. “And now, due seemingly to the chaotic, often cruel, whims of a billionaire, the complete edifice seems going to collapse.” On Saturday, Musk cited a web poll as he reinstated Trump’s Twitter account, lifting the permanent ban the platform imposed following January 6, 2021, Capitol riot.
Sam Bankman-Fried, the 30-year-old who went from lionized billionaire to reviled executive of a bankrupt company within several days, is just a vaunted “genius” now under a harsh light. Writing in the New York Times, Paul Krugman cited the story of Bankman-Fried’s company, FTX, to question the future of crypto finance: “The government supervises banks, regulates the risks they can take and guarantees many deposits, while crypto operates largely without oversight. So investors must rely on the honesty and competence of entrepreneurs; when they offer perfect deals, investors must believe not just within their competence but in their genius.”
“How has that been exercising?”
Timing is… almost anything.
The word that the Democrats kept control of the Senate had to be an ego boost for Biden, who met with China’s leader, Xi Jinping, in Bali, Indonesia, on Monday. As Frida Ghitis noted, “The timing could not have been any better….”
“With democracy suddenly looking like it’s on firmer ground and key autocracies facing serious problems, it was a great moment for Biden to speak frankly to Xi about regions of disagreement between the two superpowers while trying to create safeguards to avoid the rivalry from careening into conflict as the partnership has deteriorated to its most tense state in decades.”
But life may get incredibly uncomfortable for Biden early next year. “With Republicans in control of the House,” Julian Zelizer wrote, “the Biden administration will probably encounter a mix of investigations, conservative-agenda setting, and obstruction. … Despite all the media speculation about whether the election will push Republicans away from Trumpism, the safe bet is that … they’ll dive deeper into the ocean of red.”
Still, the Republicans could overreach and give Democrats an opening. Zelizer recalled the maxim popularized by the Spider-Man franchise: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
Former Rep. Charlie Dent, a Republican, observed, “Assuming Kevin McCarthy manages to win the vote for the speakership on the House floor in January, his governing challenge could prove a lot more frustrating and difficult than what John Boehner faced ten years ago.”
“House Republican votes will undoubtedly be needed to raise the debt ceiling, fund the government and enter into other agreements with the Senate and President Joe Biden,” Dent noted. The “election outcome has made McCarthy’s task more difficult and dangerous. McCarthy does not have any breathing room, as extreme elements within the House GOP conference feel emboldened using their leverage.”
Nevada decides the Senate.
The Senate race in Nevada was a nail-biter that ended with the reelection of Catherine Cortez Masto, guaranteeing Democrats continued control of the Senate. She “campaigned vigorously through the entire Silver State, owning a textbook campaign, even earning endorsements from high-profile Republicans through the entire state who praised her bipartisan leadership, work ethic, and integrity,” wrote Sheila Leslie, a Democrat and former state legislator in Nevada. “This is on the other hand to (Republican Adam) Laxalt, who many viewed as a carpet-bagging Virginian, capitalizing on his grandfather’s sterling reputation in the state.”
One Senate seat remains to be decided: Georgia will choose from Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock and Republican football legend Herschel Walker in a December 6 runoff. The state’s outgoing lieutenant governor, Geoff Duncan, a Republican, urged Walker to make three calls – to Trump, urging him to keep out of the contest. To Gov. Brian Kemp, seeking his help following the governor’s decisive reelection victory, and to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who handily beat challenger Charlie Crist in his reelection.
“If the GOP can’t beat a Democratic Party led by a president having an approval rating in the low 40s, something must change because the status quo isn’t cutting it,” Duncan wrote.
In terms of GOP leadership in the Senate, Rick Scott failed to oust McConnell from the party’s top post. Patrick T. Brown, a fellow at a conservative think tank, applauded McConnell’s victory and called Scott “the perfect example of a Republican politician who has seemingly learned all the incorrect lessons from the Trump earthquake of 2016.”
Yet he argued that several McConnell’s critics have a spot: “McConnell, who had been reelected to his seventh term as senator in 2020, will undoubtedly be needing handy the reins off sooner or later soon – and the younger voices are to choose a leader who can tell America not just what the Republican Party is against, but what it’s for.”