Democratic Leaders in Congress Are Old and Out of Touch


The 117th Congress convened for the first time on January 3, and Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was narrowly elected to her fourth term as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

After the election, Pelosi ascended the podium and banged her gavel. She expressed the honor she felt presiding over the swearing in of a new freshman class of representatives, describing the process as a “sacred ritual of renewal.”

Three days later, pro-Trump forces stormed the Capitol building, shattering all pretenses of ritual in the process.

As for renewal? That word has multiple meanings: It can signal the resumption of business as usual, or it can indicate a need for renovation, rebuilding, repair. With 2020 finally in the rearview mirror and Georgia newly flipped blue, the latter sounds nice, but it seems safe to assume that’s not how Pelosi meant it — despite how clearly the events of January 6 prove it is warranted. 

Pelosi’s retention of her speakership is certainly preferable to the alternative outcome: Her opponent, Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), endorsed his party’s efforts to overturn the results of Biden’s election but has declined to condemn two freshman Republican representatives’ past support of QAnon. Nevertheless, another two years of 80-year-old Pelosi steering the establishment Democratic ship, hip to hip with 70-year-old Chuck Schumer, now the likely Senate majority leader after Georgia’s January runoff elections, and 78-year-old Biden, promises to be a far cry from the progressive future younger lawmakers, activists, and voters have been trying to deliver.

Pelosi’s continued deference to ritual and dismissiveness of younger, more progressive members of her party were a hallmark of her leadership during the Trump era, and that dynamic is unlikely to change after Joe Biden is inaugurated on January 20.

Many millennials and eligible Gen Z voters favored Bernie Sanders during the primaries, but they still showed up in unprecedented numbers to get Biden elected president. This happened despite Biden’s meager, moderate proposals on the issues this demographic cared about most in 2020: racist policing, climate change, and the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. In exchange for our support, Pelosi, Biden, and the Democratic establishment should acknowledge the policies and priorities many of us care about most.

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Post-election analysis from the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University indicated that youth voters (classified as voters ages 18 to 29), and particularly youth voters of color, were decisive in some of Biden’s key swing state wins. More than 10 million youth voters cast early and absentee ballots this year.

Age isn’t everything, of course. Proudly progressive lawmakers like Sanders (79) and Senator Ed Markey (74) have earned enthusiastic support from young people. But many of the most powerful Democratic lawmakers are corporate-friendly norm followers who seem wholly unprepared — or unwilling — to meet the turmoil of our current moment. 

While good old boys stormed the capitol, stole equipment and instigated terror amongst Capitol staff, Pelosi and Schumer released a joint statement asking Donald Trump, the man who incited the very violence they were sheltering form, to please ask the “protestors” to go home.

After the Capitol was finally clear (no thanks to Trump) and Congress returned to its chambers, Pelosi took the podium once again.



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