Chapter Excerpts

excerpt from the introduction:

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about one-quarter of the U.S. population, about 69,420,700 citizens, is between eighteen and thirty-four years old. Out of that pool of about 70 million adults, there are probably at least a few compelling individuals who might be electable to the U.S. presidency, or whose candidacy would prove strongly competitive and worthy of wide and serious consideration. Let us ask ourselves, Why did the framers of the Constitution create a system that forever bars even the possibility that charismatic and capable young adult candidates for office might emerge? What were the framers thinking? Why did they limit democracy in such a peremptory way? The quick answer is that the framers believed that only someone who had attained a sufficient level of maturity and experience was fit for elected federal office.  But in that case, why didn’t they decide to let the voters decide about any particular adult-aged individual’s suitability for office? Why let process trump merit? Can it be that the framers designed a system that delivers, over time, a kind of prudential stability, even if it occasionally excludes exceptional individuals?

Surely most U.S. citizens take these requirements for granted; we simply accept them as the ground rules of our federal system. Perhaps it is time, however, to subject them to serious review. Only a bare handful of democratic governments the world over has adopted this elaborate, multitiered system of age encumbrances (and the U.S. system is the second-most convoluted, next only to the Italian). The majority of the world’s advanced democracies have no age restrictions on eligibility for office beyond the age of legal adulthood. Furthermore, almost every other field of meritorious endeavor–professional athletics, the music industry, higher education, Hollywood entertainment, the dot.com cyber-world, and gainful business generally–has become avidly opportunistic about recognizing and promoting talented individuals regardless of age. The military relies heavily on the ability and valor of the same age cohort (with no official age barriers to promotion). Only in politics do we see such structurally explicit constraints against greater formal involvement by the younger citizens among us.

In our country, eighteen- to thirty-four-year-olds can buy cigarettes, donate organs, play the lottery, drive cars, fly airplanes, shoot guns, start businesses, own homes, sign contracts, have consensual sex, get married, get divorced, have children, have abortions, join the military, serve as jurors, and be tried in court as full adults, but for some reason they are still branded, as an entire group, as somehow too immature and too inexperienced to run for one or more categories of elected federal office.  With this book I want to propose that full constitutional adulthood should commence at the age of majority, which means that all U.S. citizens would become fully enfranchised at the age of eighteen. Thus I’m insisting that eligibility for office ought to be regarded in the United States as a fundamental right of the democratic franchise: all adult citizens should enjoy the right to run for federal office; that right is, I claim, as important to full civic enfranchisement as the right to vote. As an incidental yet by no means trivial matter, I suspect that the recognition of such a right is likely to lead to derivative consequences more beneficial than not: it may have the effect, for instance, of expanding the pool of office applicants and thus enhance electoral competition. I happen to doubt that it would significantly reduce the overall age of Congress, but I submit that the existence of the right to be eligible to hold office ought to be assessed, as it were, independently of its consequences, that is, as a matter of principle….

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