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A Study for Political Anthropologists: The Impact of Aging Democratic Leaders on 2020

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Surely you are familiar with the field of anthropology, but how about political anthropology?

According to Syracuse University“The field of political anthropology encompasses the analysis of power, leadership, and influence in all their social, cultural, symbolic, ritual, and policy dimensions.”


Attention political anthropologists: The Democratic Party currently offers a unique phenomenon worthy of study — the cause and effect of aging leaders unwilling to relinquish power to the next generation, perhaps even clogging the path for younger leaders to emerge.

For compelling evidence that 2020 Democrats suffer from “senioritis,” look no further than a recent CNN poll. Offering the names of 16 possible candidates, the poll asked Democrats and Democrat-leaning independent voters to name their preferred presidential nominee.

Mentioned in the top six were four white male senior citizens born while World War II was raging. The four even pre-date the enormous baby boom generation born starting in 1946 that birthed the current president and his three predecessors.

Leading the 2020 pack, the runaway choice named by 33 percent of respondents was former Vice President Joe Biden who celebrates his 76th birthday in November. Placing second and favored by 13 percent, was 77-year-old Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

Political anthropologists should note that with all the youthful mob energy swirling around the Democratic grassroots, Biden and Sanders were the poll’s only two presidential candidates earning double-digit rankings. Even third place winner California Senator Kamala Harris who, at age 54, is over 20 years younger than the two frontrunners was preferred by only 9 percent of respondents. 


Former Sen. John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee is also signaling an interest in a 2020 run. Kerry, who turns 75 in December, was tied with 49-year-old New Jersey Senator Cory Booker as the top choice preferred by 5 percent.

Rounding out the top vote-getters was 76-year-old former New York mayor and billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg. Having recently re-registered as a Democrat fueling speculation about a 2020 run, Bloomberg was favored by 4 percent, and tied with 46-year-old Texas gubernatorial candidate Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

Are Biden, Sanders, Kerry, and Bloomberg preventing younger leaders from realizing their 2020 leadership potential? That is a question best left for political anthropologists.

However, a purely political question is whether or not a white male in his late 70s is the most viable candidate to face-off against 72-year-old President Donald Trump. That answer will be provided by Democratic primary voters who are increasingly young, left-leaning, non-white and female.

But certainly past presidential campaign experience provides an advantage for Biden, Sanders, and Kerry who have logged thousands of hours on the trail. (Bloomberg has often only heavily flirted with the idea of running.) 

One must not discount the potential for this fab four to be recruited as poster children for AARP to inspire growing numbers of senior citizens that it is never too late to give up on your dreams of world domination.


Perhaps too, political anthropologists will discover that running for president is like a drug. The study might find that the exhilaration of campaigning by feeding off the energy of the people helps to lower cholesterol in men over age 75. And for sure it beats playing golf at the club.

This foursome is also motivated by their distaste for President Trump who still manages to be president while playing golf at his own club. Further propelling their collective ambition is that they think they are smarter and more qualified to sit in the Oval Office. And, in Bloomberg’s case, compared to Trump, a far richer and more successful businessman.

Most important, Biden, Sanders, Kerry and Bloomberg all have nagging personal reasons:

Biden has publicly stated that he would have defeated Trump if only he had run in 2016.

Sanders believes that he was robbed of the 2016 Democratic nomination.

Kerry is still ticked off about being “swift-boated” and losing the presidency to George W. Bush in 2004.

Bloomberg has that New York City alpha-male rivalry thing going with Donald Trump. And now that the CEO of Bloomberg Inc. is a Democrat, he could write a $2 billion dollar check to finance his entire campaign with $44.8 billion left over.

Who knows what really motivates these senior citizens to consider running for the world’s most stressful job. But this we do know — younger candidates will have to respectfully tip-toe around the age issue if any of them are to win their party’s nomination because they must respect their elders and will later beg for their support.


After surveying the presidential field, political anthropologists looking for more evidence that aging Democratic leaders cling to power and act as a roadblock for younger leaders should study the House of Representatives. 

There, House Minority Leader, former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, is age 78, and “former” might be dropped from her title in two weeks. Pelosi’s No. 2 man, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland is even older at age 79. Third in line is Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn of South Carolina. Now the talk is if Democrats win control of the House and Pelosi is not elected Speaker because of a “youth revolt,” potentially Rep. Clyburn could be elected the first African American Speaker of the House, at age 78!  

Finally, political anthropologists can take field trips studying two of the most famous Democrats who refuse to take a final bow — Bill and Hillary Clinton. Starting in mid-November and through May 2019, the former first couple will set out on a 13 city tour sucking up bandwidth from all the 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls. My recommendation for a catchy tour theme is, “Hey, don’t forget about us!”  

That suggestion is a perfect segue to my last question for political anthropologists studying if “senioritis” is causing chronic leadership pain among Democrats:


How can Republicans miss you if you won’t go away? 

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