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Editorial: United States needs renewal of political leadership

While politics south of the border has always been tumultuous, the current state of affairs borders on calamitous.
The White House in July 2022. Manuel Balce Ceneta, The Associated Press

While politics south of the border has always been tumultuous, the current state of affairs borders on calamitous.

As campaigning begins for the 2024 presidential election, a strong majority of voters want neither the sitting president, Joe Biden, nor the leading Republican candidate, Donald Trump, to run.

Biden, they say, is too old. He’ll be 82 if re-elected, and is suffering both physical and cognitive decline.

Trump is no youngster either — he’ll be 78 if he wins — but more important, the former president faces a barrage of criminal indictments, four in all and each in a different jurisdiction. He might conceivably end up campaigning from jail. And things don’t get any more promising down-ballot.

For the Democrats, it had been widely assumed that vice-president Kamala Harris would become the heir apparent if Biden stepped aside.

As a successful prosecuting attorney, and a woman of colour from vote-rich California, she looked a natural choice.

Yet Harris has become, if anything, less liked than Biden. Her popularity rating, in the low to mid-30s, is among the worst of any vice-president in the modern era.

And after Harris, it gets worse. The only other well-known Democrat to throw his hat in the ring so far is Robert F. Kennedy Jr., son of assassinated Bobby Kennedy and nephew of former president John F. Kennedy.

But Kennedy is known mainly for his attraction to wild conspiracy theories — he claims to have “overwhelming” evidence that the CIA killed his uncle. He is also a resolute anti-vaxxer.

Other more plausible candidates are waiting in the wings, like California governor Gavin Newsom. But it’s generally believed that it would be political suicide to join the race so long as Biden remains committed to running.

On the Republican side, the alternatives are equally disheartening. The leading competitor, Florida governor Ron DeSantis, is miles behind Trump in the polls, and steadily falling further back.

DeSantis may be a successful governor of the Sunshine State, but his hard-driving, take-no-prisoners reputation, along with a somewhat cold and forbidding personality, has failed to impress voters. After DeSantis, no other candidate even makes it to double figures in the polls.

Yet even if there were some realistic alternatives, both Biden and Trump have powerful reasons to hang on.

Republicans in Congress have begun an impeachment inquiry against Biden, focused on allegations that he profited from his son’s business dealings with foreign agencies.

So long as he remains in office, Biden is better placed to withstand any such investigation.

Likewise, if Trump regains the White House he might be able to brazen through whatever legal challenges lie ahead.

The situation in the Senate and House of Representatives is scarcely more appealing.

Currently 10 members of the Senate are 76 or older. Five are in their 80s.

In the House of Representatives, 15 members are 80 or older. That matters because promotion in both bodies is largely based on seniority. Before the 2022 mid-term election, the Speaker of the House was Democrat Nancy Pelosi, then 82. She says she’s running again.

The current Republican minority leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, is 81. He twice recently froze in front of cameras and had to be led away by aides.

Democrat Dianne Feinstein, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee responsible for overseeing the appointment of federal judges, is 90 and scarcely able to function.

In effect, the U.S. government is on the way to becoming a gerontocracy, and this at a time when huge challenges face the country.

The last thing our neighbours need is a president facing senility or potential imprisonment, and a Congress too old for the job.

A thorough cleaning of the stables is required.

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