Nikki Haley Calls for a ‘New Generation’ of Leadership and Competency Tests for Politicians Over 75

Amy Gamm
By Amy Gamm
February 16, 2023Politics
Nikki Haley Calls for a ‘New Generation’ of Leadership and Competency Tests for Politicians Over 75
Former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley speaks to guests at the Republican Jewish Coalition Annual Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas, Nev., on Nov. 19, 2022. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Former South Carolina Gov. and U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley targeted the political establishment in Washington during her 2024 presidential campaign kickoff speech, calling for a generational change in leadership and, among other things, mandatory mental competency tests for politicians over 75.

“America is not past our prime,” Haley, 51, said during her speech to an adoring crowd in Charleston, S.C. on Feb. 15. “It’s just that our politicians are past theirs.”

She described her vision of a future America, which includes a country where school choice, election integrity, lower crime rates, a secure border, a tough posture toward Russia and China, and a strong national defense become a reality.

But sprinkled throughout the speech were references to “a new generation” of leadership.

“We’re ready to move past the stale ideas and faded names of the past, and we are more than ready for a new generation to lead us,” she said, adding later to roaring applause, “We won’t win the fight for the 21st Century if we keep trusting politicians from the 20th Century.”

Haley said that the country needs someone to step up who can “shake up Washington and the political class” with a “willingness to move past the status quo.”

“I’ve been shaking up the status quo my entire life,” she said.

One sure way to shake up the status quo of the political establishment is to call for term limits, which she did.

“In the America that I see, the permanent politician will finally retire. We will have term limits for Congress.” Haley paused until the long applause died down, then continued, “And mandatory mental competency tests for politicians over 75 years old.”

“Washington will finally serve the people instead of the political class,” she declared.

Haley’s call for mental competency tests for aging politicians isn’t a new thing.

In November 2021, Haley told David Brody of The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) that if “you’re going to have anyone above a certain age in a position of power—whether it’s the House, whether it’s the Senate, whether’s its vice president, whether it’s president—you should have some sort of cognitive test,” The Hill reported. She went on to compare a potential cognitive test requirement to lawmakers disclosing their tax returns.

She also emphasized that the issue shouldn’t be a partisan one.

“Let’s face it,” she told CBN, “we’ve got a lot of people in leadership positions that are old. And that’s not being disrespectful. That’s a fact.”

Many political analysts believe that Haley’s remarks about age and stale leadership were specifically directed at her elderly competition for the White House—President Joe Biden, who would be 82 when taking office if he were to win the 2024 presidential election, and former President Donald Trump, who would be 78.

Age as an issue was also brought up in the 2020 presidential election, where many of the top contenders were well into their 70s at the time, like Elizabeth Warren (who was then 71), Bernie Sanders (79), Trump (74), and Biden (77), Market Watch reported.

Politicians Are Trending Older

According to a Business Insider report, “Red, White and Gray,” about 23 percent of Congress is currently over 70 years old, marking the highest percentage in U.S. history.

While roughly half of the U.S. population is aged 38 and younger, Congress only has 5 percent of its members within that demographic, the study found, with a median age of 61 1/2 in 2020.

The study also found that since the 1990s, politicians have been trending older. From 1950 to 1990, 10 percent of Congress, on average, was under 40, getting as high as 17 percent in the 1980s.

“But today, as older members stay longer, the average has been just 4 percent since 2000,” the study said.

Several prominent politicians have reached a ripe old age on the job.

Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is 82 and recently opted not to seek reelection as Democratic leader in the House but had served in the role for two decades.

Democratic California Sen. Diane Feinstein, 89, announced this week that she will retire from Congress at the end of 2024 and will not seek reelection after serving in the Senate for over 30 years.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), 80, who was first elected to the Senate in 1984, has thus far served in Congress for nearly 39 years.

Age Caps, Term Limits, and Examination Requirements for Politicians

A separate September 2022 Business Insider study found that nearly 80 percent of Americans believe that the age of political leaders is a problem, and that concern transcends political party affiliation and age.

Congressional term limits, medical examinations, and instituting age caps are increasingly supported by the population.

According to the Insider’s findings, “three in four poll respondents favored instituting congressional age maximums,” particularly in Congress. And 84 percent and 83 percent would like to see term limits in the House of Representatives and Senate, respectively. Eight-five percent think a U.S. president should be limited to two terms.

As far as physical or mental assessments for politicians, 84 percent want candidates to undergo both types of examinations as a prerequisite to serving as president, with 81 percent for both the House and Senate.

However, some charge that requiring age caps and mental competency tests for politicians amounts to ageism.

“Ageism and ableism rear their ugly heads every electoral cycle,” the author of “This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism” wrote in a recent blog post. “Generalizations about the capacities of older people are no more acceptable than racial or gender stereotypes.”

AARP’s Executive Vice President and Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer Nancy LeaMond agrees.

“A candidate’s qualifications, ability, and stance on the issues is what matters—not the year they were born,” she said in a Nov. 12, 2022, statement.

“Making sweeping judgments based on identifiers like race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, and disability is not acceptable. It should also be unacceptable to discriminate based on age,” she said.

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