- - Friday, December 18, 2020

The de facto leader of the Democratic Party on Tuesday was rude enough to point out that soon, probably very soon, the party is going to need new leadership.

She also noted that, as best anyone can tell, the current superannuated leadership had done little or no succession planning.

She also minimized expectations with respect to the Biden administration, pointing out that the president-elect seems content to appoint Obama administration retreads, who are, of course, in many instances, Clinton administration retreads.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is right about all of this.

In their rush to defeat President Trump, the Democrats have set themselves upon a path that is littered with the remnants of the gerontocracy. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California is 80 years old and was first elected in 1986. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland is 81 and was first elected in 1981. House Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina is 80 and was first elected in 1992. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York is a youthful 70 — he was first elected to the New York State Assembly as a 24 year old — but he plays older.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez also noted correctly that this problem is exacerbated by the fact that over the last 45 years, power in Congress has been aggregated in leadership offices rather than dispersed to committee chairmen or individual offices. Consequently, it is difficult for lawmakers to develop the skills or experience necessary for leadership.

For Republicans, who tend to be more fractious and individualistic, this is not as significant a problem. If anything, the Republicans in the House and the Senate suffer from a surplus of people who could and who would like to run the show. In the House and the Senate both, there are an unfortunately large number of Republicans who are interested in being famous.

For the Democrats, who are more likely to wait patiently in line, the lack of succession planning is more of a problem. Other than Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, who both are from New York, most people outside of Washington would have trouble naming even one prominent Democratic House member.

It’s no better in the Senate. If Mr. Schumer were to lose in 2022 (probably in a primary, probably to Ms. Ocasio-Cortez), most Americans would have no idea who would take his place as the party’s leader in the Senate. With the exception of Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts (also 70), the Senate Democrats have no nationally recognized stars.

This problem also exists within the nascent Biden administration. As Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has pointed out, the new crowd has a preference for those who are a bit more … retro, which means they are slowing the introduction of fresh faces and viewpoints. It also means that in many instances they are hiring those who have taken the traditional Washington path of failing upward across administrations.

It betrays an appalling lack of imagination.

It also produces suboptimal results. In many instances, President-elect Joseph R. Biden’s nominees have less experience and probably less competence than those they are replacing. At the State Department, at Health and Human Services, at the Environmental Protection Agency, at the Interior Department, at the Transportation Department, at the Office of Management and Budget, at the U.S. Trade Representative’s office and at other places, the Trump administration incumbents are more experienced and better than those who will replace them.

At the same time, a Biden administration will have more than its share of older folks.

Former Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been demoted to climate envoy, is 77. Former Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen, the Treasury nominee, is 74. Tom Vilsack, the Agriculture nominee, is 70. Marcia Fudge, the Housing and Urban Development nominee, is 68. Gen. Lloyd Austin, the Defense nominee, is 67. Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, who will be the domestic climate czar, is 66. Steve Richetti, counselor to the president-elect, is 63.

The man who will be the oldest president ever seems to be creating an administration that looks more like the Community Improvement Council at The Villages than it does America.

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is spot on in her diagnosis of the problem. She, her fellow Democrats and the good Lord are the only ones who can fix it.

• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.

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