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Are mental competency tests for older politicians ageist?

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Former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, 51, announced she was running for president — and in the process, she targeted older politicians and questioned their fitness for their jobs.  

The Republican candidate, who is the first person to challenge Donald Trump in their party for the 2024 nomination, called for “mandatory mental competency tests for politicians over 75 years old.” 

“America is not past our prime,” she said during her announcement. “It’s just that our politicians are past theirs.” Haley also said there should be congressional term limits.

See: 5 things to know about Nikki Haley, the Republican candidate challenging Trump in 2024 

Mental competency tests can appear age discriminatory, as they suggest a person’s age is what determines how capable they are at a particular job. Presidents already have physical exams, such as the one Biden has scheduled on Thursday. 

But this isn’t the first time age has been the center of attention for the presidential seat. Many of the 2020 candidates were also in their 70s on Election Day, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, then 71; Sen. Bernie Sanders, then 79; President Trump, then 74; and Biden, then 77. 

Almost a quarter of Congressmembers (23%) are older than age 70, according to a Business Insider report called” Red, White and Gray.” The median age of Congressmembers is 61.5 years old, as of 2022. 

Biden, who is considering seeking re-election in 2024, recently addressed his age. The president, who is 80 and would be 81 going on 82 on Election Day in 2024, essentially said age is just a number. “I think it relates to how much energy you have, and whether or not the job you’re doing is one consistent with what any person of any age would be able to do.” 

He’s not the only one who thinks age is not a determinant factor when pursuing, or maintaining, a job. “A candidate’s qualifications, ability and stance on the issues is what matters — not the year they were born,” Nancy LeaMond, AARP executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer, said in a statement in November. The organization said that is its standing position on the issue.  “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.” 

Also see: Assaults on the ‘gerontocracy’ reek of ageism — creativity and inventiveness don’t fade with birthdays

Author Ashton Applewhite, who wrote “This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism,” echoed those sentiments. “Generalizations about the capacities of older people are no more acceptable than racial or gender stereotypes. Period,” she said in a blog post about age debates during elections. The same issues arose when reports came out that Sen. Dianne Feinstein from California was struggling with cognitive decline, as The New Yorker wrote. Feinstein, 89, said this month she will not run for re-election in 2024. 


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