Is it time for Democrats to bring in some new dogs, even if they use old tricks?

Posted at 11:24 AM, Nov 20, 2014

Sometimes you can’t even teach an old dog old tricks.

One of the old tricks in politics is that when times are hard, you bring in some new dogs.

The Democrats have forgotten this one, or they’re ignoring it.

In two out of the last three congressional elections, the Democrats have gotten badly bitten. There will be fewer Democrats in the House next year than at any point since the unhappy reign of Herbert Hoover.

But the party is sticking with its old dogs. And the party is looking, well, old, except for the president.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is 74.  She was a breath of fresh air when she first came to Congress, in 1987.  She was even a breath of fresh air when she succeeded Dick Gephardt as minority leader, more than a decade ago.  She is still a ferocious fundraiser and tactician. But fresh? Not so much.

Her deputies are in her grade. Steny Hoyer is 75 and came to the Hill in 1981. “Dallas” was the most popular TV show. Jim Clyburn is 74. He was first elected just yesterday, in 1993.

Over in the Upper Body, Harry Reid is 74 and has been around since ’87.  His Whip, Dick Durbin is only 69.   Chuck “The Kid” Schumer is a mere 63. He came to Congress in 1981, a few years after his Bar Mitzvah.

If Hillary Clinton, 67, decides to opt out of 2016, the frontrunner will be Joe Biden, who turned 72 today. And looks great. He first came to the Senate in 1973. “All in the Family” was the No. 1 television show.

The leadership positions in Congress are not ideal venues for showcasing talent or for growing presidential timber.  But pumping new blood into those jobs has been important to re-energizing dull parties over the years.

When Democrats were struggling in the Reagan years, a young senator form Maine, George Mitchell, engineered their takeover of the Senate in 1986.  He took over the Majority Leader job from an aging Robert Byrd two years later.

At the same time, a group of younger Democrats in the House and Senate were percolating the ideas that would shape the modern Democratic Party and the Clinton administration.  To really date them, they were called Atari Democrats. They included Al Gore, Dick Gephardt, Paul Tsongas, Tim Wirth and the old man of the group, Gary Hart.

A decade later, Newt Gingrich engineered the first Republican majority in the House since the 1950s.  He took the leader’s job from Robert Michel, a man 20 years older.  Gingrich quickly flamed out but members of his posse are still guiding the party in Congress.

The Republicans today have a deep bench of younger politicians who are nationally known and who are strongly associated with a certain style of politics or a philosophy: Rand Paul, Paul Ryan, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie and Marco Rubio.

The Democrats don’t.  The Obama administration hasn’t groomed new leaders and neither have the old dogs in Congress. They could use some new breeds.

[Also by Dick Meyer: Obamacare suffers from low approval numbers]

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