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Biden’s Cabinet: Youth should be served — and serve

The president-elect owes youthful voters, those between 18-29, who turned out in historically large numbers.

President-elect Joe Biden announcing nominees and appointees to serve on his health and coronavirus response teams during a news conference on Tuesday.
President-elect Joe Biden announcing nominees and appointees to serve on his health and coronavirus response teams during a news conference on Tuesday.
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

President-elect Joe Biden is living up to his campaign promise to assemble a diverse group of Cabinet officers and top-level advisers.

They bring a breadth of differences on gender, race, religion, and ethnicity. As Biden pledged, they do “look like America.”

But there is one important category of diversity that has been overlooked: youth.

The president-elect owes youthful voters, those between 18-29, who turned out in historically large numbers. More than 60 percent voted for him, helping carry him to victory, especially in some of the battleground states.

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But they are, as usual, being overlooked now. Their absence highlights a gap in diversity and inclusiveness, which ought to extend to age, too. That initiative is accentuated by former President Barack Obama’s exhortation the other day for the Democratic Party to pay more heed to the views of youthful voters. One way to do so is by placing them in positions of influence and power within the new administration.

The president and his advisors can look to Minnesota for examples of how to extend opportunities to the young.

 Sorry shibboleth

Choosing youths for key decision-making roles may, some would say, be unrealistic because they have not attained experience in top-level jobs and maturity that would warrant their placement in important positions. But that’s a sorry shibboleth since many youths have the insight, judgment and other traits that contribute to good leadership, maybe even more so than their elders.

How else can they acquire experience in top-flight spots without being given the opportunity to perform jobs of significance?

They certainly couldn’t be any worse than an octogenarian like Trump’s Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose main notoriety has been falling asleep at meetings and impairing the Census by undercounting minorities. Or, Rudy Giuliani, the 76-year-old head of Trump’s post-election legal team, whose childish antics have been as off-putting as the regenerative hair dye trickling down his face.

 Minnesota matters

 Minnesota provides a model to lead the way.

Since 1976, the state has had a student holding an official position on the University Board of Regents, along with eight non-voting student representatives. All of them have served with distinction and perspicacity.

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Six years earlier, Minnesota was ahead of the curve when voters amended the state constitution to lower the long-standing voting age from 21 to 19, along with allowing anyone to qualify for public office at 21. About eight months later, in mid-1971, the 26th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, lowering the voting age to 18 across the board. But the provision allowing office holding at 21, lower than most other jurisdictions, including federal law, remains in effect here. 

Bills have been periodically introduced in the state Legislature, spearheaded by ex-legislator Phyllis Kahn of Minneapolis, to further lower the voting age to 16, although none has advanced to the floor in either house.

Marshall H. Tanick
Marshall H. Tanick
Initially met with derision, the proposition has attracted serious attention. Similar measures have been introduced in a number of places around the country. The high enthusiasm and corresponding turnout of young voters this year may provide more momentum for this Minnesota-bred proposal at various state levels and, perhaps, spread to the national level in the years ahead.

But there’s more. Minnesota is one of about half a dozen jurisdictions whose employment laws bar discrimination against individuals of any age, whether old or young. It’s much broader than the parallel federal age discrimination law, which is restricted to employees or job applicants of age 40 or older.

These measures provide the Biden team with ample possibilities.

A shrinking percentage

The incoming administration, from the 78-year-old president-elect on down, skews toward older individuals. But they constitute a shrinking percentage of the citizenry. Their over-representation in the Cabinet-to-be is a distortion of how America really “looks.” Placing some youthful men and women in key positions would create the kind of balance that Biden professes to seek. The incoming president should select some disabled people to fill the vacuum in that often-overlooked group, too.

Appointing youthful officials also would be good politics. It would appeal to the nearly 54 million members of the electorate, one-sixth of the public, who are 18-29 years old; it would reward those who campaigned and voted for him; and it would be a way of reaching out to even the majority of white males in that age bracket who voted against him, fulfilling his pledge to be mindful of the interests of “those who did not vote for me.”

It also would be fitting because Biden himself in 1972 was at 29 years old the youngest person ever elected to the Senate, and he barely reached the Constitutional minimum of age 30 when he was sworn in two months later.

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Now, nearly 50 years later, it’s time once again for youth to be served — and to serve.

The writer is a Twin Cities constitutional and employment law attorney.


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