The 86-year-old senator?

by Andrew Gelman on April 17, 2012 · 16 comments

in Campaigns and elections

I see in the paper that Sen. Lugar of Indiana is facing the possibility of involuntary retirement. As a political scientist, I’m in favor of more primary challenges—I don’t see why anybody should be getting a free ride.

The real question, though, is why would Lugar want another six years in congress, given that he’s already 80 years old? I can see why, if he’s challenged, he’d want to fight, but why didn’t he just decide a year ago not to run for reelection?

Part of this must be a sense of duty—the idea that he is the best person for the job, among all the plausible alternatives. But I wonder if another motivation is to keep his senatorial perks. I can relate to this. We’re living in a Columbia University apartment, and the conditions of our lease say that if I retire, we have to move out. I could see myself at 80 years old, creaking through my classes but not wanting to quit because we wouldn’t want to get kicked out of the apartment we’d been living in for decades. Leaving the pampered world of the U.S. Congress—that could be even more difficult, especially if you’ve been there for a third of a century.

{ 16 comments }

William April 17, 2012 at 7:56 pm

He’s secretly vying for the presidency. The Republicans win back the Senate. He becomes President Pro Tempore. Then he’s just a highly elaborate plot away from the presidency. Those 80 year olds are pretty cunning.

PM April 17, 2012 at 8:09 pm

Having known Dick Lugar and having known Dick Mourdock, the “best person for the job” excuse seems pretty convincing.

If Mitch Daniels had wanted the seat, I strongly suspect Lugar would not have run.

(And, come on, Andrew! Having 86-year-old senators is hardly a new phenomenon :) Even in today’s Senate, after the deaths of not a few elderly solons, we still have three senators who are approaching 90.)

Andrew Gelman April 17, 2012 at 9:20 pm

PM:

1. If Lugar had announced a year ago he was retiring, there would be other alternatives than Dick Mourdock.

2. My argument above applies to the other congressmembers in their eighties as well. Similarly, I’m not the only Columbia professor who is likely to work long past an appropriate retirement age so as to avoid eviction.

PM April 17, 2012 at 10:53 pm

1. Very possibly! But it is altogether plausible that the alternatives were much worse than Mourdock. And Lugar would have anticipated that. My only goal here was to suggest that the nobler motive may have been more likely than you suggest–not to suggest that it is certain.

2. I know, that was a less serious comment. I rarely use emoticons in serious comments.

Chris April 17, 2012 at 10:23 pm

Being a Senator beats gardening and waiting to die.

krissy April 18, 2012 at 7:37 am

Bye bye Dick Lugie and thanks for the memories.

Jim April 18, 2012 at 9:29 am

I am not sure what senatorial perks you are talking about. You should look into what the typical day of a senator looks like while they are in Washington, and the modesty of many of their digs. The ones that stick around do so out of a desire to serve.

Dan Miller April 18, 2012 at 2:18 pm

What about the perk of many people thinking you’re important and seeking your favor? That’s got to be worth a lot–after all, it’s not like he can look forward to a long career in the private sector. It’s too late to start a second career. Once he quits, all he can do is write his memoirs, most likely.

Jim April 19, 2012 at 10:14 am

“What about the perk of many people thinking you’re important and seeking your favor? ”

Well, one, he is important. And two, being a Senator does not result in “many people” seeking your favor. Typically its the opposite.

John April 18, 2012 at 11:03 am

What Chris said. He is running for re-election because serving as a Senator is what keeps him alive. People like that rarely live for very long after retiring.

Ralph April 18, 2012 at 11:57 am

Power, or the simulacrum of it, is the ultimate aphrodisiac. Few who have it give it up willingly, and those who want it badly are willing to lose every shred of their dignity to get it — just look at the Republican presidential nomination race.

Number Three April 18, 2012 at 9:47 pm

He’s running again in 2018. Mark my words.

It’s not perks, per(k) se. Fund-raising at his age must be a real chore. It’s not power, p(ow)er se. He doesn’t have that much, actually. It’s that, being in the Game so long, life is the Game for him. Chris is largely right. I have actually seen Lugar around town a few times. And if I had to guess, he’s about three steps out of eight from not being able to tie his shoes. But senators need not tie their shoes, if they can’t. Old guys who can’t tie their shoes die.

LFC April 20, 2012 at 1:42 am

First, several Senators (and Representatives) are retiring in 2012. So the comment above about few people ever relinquishing power is wrong.

Second, the assumptions of this post and some of the comments bother me. I am not a supporter of Lugar’s politics (though compared to the run of Republicans these days, he’s pretty good). But I saw a recent interview that Gwen Ifill did with him on the NewsHour. He’s just as articulate as he ever was. It’s no secret that Lugar is not dumb (he was a Rhodes Scholar, iirc). If he’s still mentally sharp, as seems to be the case, why should he retire just b/c he’s 80 and may not walk in as sprightly a way as he used to? People age at different rates and different ways; John Paul Stevens is playing tennis and writing books in his 90s. Some people should retire from the Senate at 65, no doubt; others can still do the job into their 70s and 80s. The notion that he should retire just b.c he’s 80, without regard to his mental and physical condition, I really don’t understand.

Jim April 20, 2012 at 9:30 am

Agreed. This post and discussion reeked of ageism.

LFC April 20, 2012 at 1:55 am

p.s. In case it wasn’t clear, I find some of the comments here to be both stupid and insulting. Unless you know someone personally, it’s a bit absurd to write things like “being a Senator beats gardening and waiting to die.” How the f*** do you know whether he even likes gardening or not? .

tudestino.info July 10, 2012 at 5:43 pm

What Chris said. He is running for re-election because serving as a Senator is what keeps him alive. It’s nice

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