Jacinda Ardern’s last day of office was Jan. 24th. Ardern was well known amongst the public for her empathetic and compassionate leadership style and for successfully navigating New Zealand through the tricky COVID-19 pandemic. Many around the world were shocked and saddened to see her leave office this week. I, however, celebrate her decision as the mark of a great leader.
Ardern did not step down because of a public scandal. She stepped down because she recognized her “responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead, and also, when you are not.” This statement represents the core of what national leaders do. Leaders are put in power to serve the public both domestically and internationally. Ardern reflected on her own capacities as a leader and realized she could no longer serve her people in the way they needed. So, she rightfully stepped down.
In the United States, we have not embraced this responsibility. We have a legislative system filled with aged politicians and some of whom have represented their districts for far too long. The 118th Congress was recently sworn in, and it is the third oldest since 1789 when Congress was created. The average age of the House is 57.5 years, and the Senate has an average age of 63.9 years. Compared to the United States’ average age of 38.3, these numbers are significantly higher.
There is nothing wrong with older Americans taking office to represent their constituents. However, when Congress’ average age is much higher than the country’s average, one begins to question whether they can represent their country effectively. After all, there are several hot-button issues like inflation, student debt, climate change and more that Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z are extremely passionate about. Will a Congress dominated by another generation be able to serve those interests effectively and honestly?
What’s more is that many politicians have remained in office past their time. For example, 32 out of the 435 members have served for over twenty years, and 16 out of the 100 members of the Senate have been in power for over 20 years.
Part of the democratic process is allowing new individuals– who represent the will of the people– to have an opportunity to make changes in their community. There has long been speculation that congressional incumbents enjoy numerous advantages over opponents, specifically better access to constituents and better access to funding. The turnover rate is incredibly low for elections where incumbents are running.
The country’s only hope is that these politicians recognize when it is their time to pass the torch. We need our leaders to reflect more on their achievements and failures, and analyze whether they can still perform their job to a level our country deserves.
We deserve leaders that represent our demographics and our interests fairly. We deserve leaders that respect responsibility like Ardern does.
Colleen McLafferty is a junior studying history at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. What are your thoughts? Tell Colleen by tweeting her at @colleenbealem.