The 89-year-old New Jerseyan is refusing to bow out in 2014 -- in defiance of both fellow Democrat Cory Booker and actuarial tables.
Let's not mince words: Senator Frank Lautenberg, who will be 90 in 2014, is too old to run for another six-year term. I am not questioning his mental sharpness or the wisdom that he's accumulated.
They're beside the point.
He'd be starting a new term while fifteen years older than the average life-expectancy for American males. What are the odds he'd survive in adequate health until 2020?
Low. Too low to risk letting him try, given the political disruption and discontinuity of service that would result if he failed. As a general matter, I am against age discrimination in hiring. I usually oppose mandatory retirement rules. And I know that New Jersey voters can reject the man even if he decides to run.
But don't candidates owe their constituents the promise that, to the best of their ability to estimate, they'll be capable of finishing the job? The hard truth is that Lautenberg can't make that promise. Beyond actuarial reality, he's already missed important votes because of health problems.
I don't know if he could win a primary, but incumbency and name recognition are powerful advantages, and if he won, voters in the general election wouldn't be permitted to just choose the man with the better platform, or the ones from the party with whom they identify more closely -- to be responsible, they'd have to factor extreme age and its likely effects into their calculations.