The Old Men and the Senate

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     In the wake of several serious, widely publicized accidents involving apparently confused or otherwise incompetent elderly drivers, the Massachusetts legislature is considering new safety regulations, including mandatory tests for drivers 85 years and older.  Naturally this modest proposal is controversial, as anyone who has tried to persuade an elderly parent to stop driving can imagine.  Call it TSS -- Ted Stevens Syndrome  -- the resistance of the very elderly to surrendering their licenses or their jobs.  If our degenerating health care system doesn't start killing off baby boomers soon, TSS will only worsen.  

     It now threatens Senate Democrats, whose alleged super-majority includes (in addition to two independents, one former and at least one virtual Republican) the ailing, often absent 91 year old Robert Byrd and three octogenarians -- Hawaii Senators Akaka and Inouye and New Jersey Senator Lautenberg (all born in 1924).  Inouye is up for re-election in 2010.  Maybe he expects to live forever, with his faculties intact, and I wish him well.
   
     Then there are the Senate's numerous septuagenarians (I count about 20 of them) including valuable senior Senators from both parties.  Of course, some are both wiser and sharper than younger colleagues, but I expect that some will seek re-election or decline to step down when they're not.  Then their staffers will effectively hold office.  As the late Strom Thurmond demonstrated, the Senate is a kind country for old men.

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Wendy Kaminer is an author, lawyer, and civil libertarian. She is the author of I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional, and a past recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. More

Wendy Kaminer is a lawyer and social critic who has been a contributing editor of The Atlantic since 1991. She writes about law, liberty, feminism, religion and popular culture and has written eight books, including Worst InstinctsFree for All; Sleeping with Extra-Terrestrials; and I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional. Kaminer worked as a staff attorney in the New York Legal Aid Society and in the New York City Mayor's Office and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1993. She is a renowned contrarian who has tackled the issues of censorship and pornography, feminism, pop psychology, gender roles and identities, crime and the criminal-justice system, and gun control. Her articles and reviews have appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, The American Prospect, Dissent, The Nation, The Wilson Quarterly, Free Inquiry, and spiked-online.com. Her commentaries have aired on National Public Radio. She serves on the board of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the advisory boards of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the Secular Coalition for America, and is a member of the Massachusetts State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.

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