It’s hard to be a cheerful person when you’re in the news business these days. There’s a lot of bad news. But as someone who appreciates good writing, bad news that’s written with style is easier to digest than your average story. And good writing is what Mary Kate Cary specializes in.

Cary, a fellow at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, wrote more than 100 presidential addresses when she served as a White House speechwriter for President George H. W. Bush from 1989 to early 1992. In her story this week for The Conversation, she tackles something that is worrying a large percentage of America’s voters: Why are “Biden and Trump – who are more than a decade and a half beyond the average American retirement age – stepping forward again for one of the hardest jobs in the world?”

Old politicians are common now, she notes: “Every one of the 20 oldest members of Congress is at least 80, and this is the third-oldest House and Senate since 1789.” That fact was accentuated when, Cary reminds us, “a local pharmacist on Capitol Hill made headlines a few years ago when he revealed that he was filling Alzheimer’s medication prescriptions for members of Congress.”

As a veteran political staffer-turned-observer, Cary says there are lots of reasons why this is happening – and her story is an unexpectedly witty exploration of a vexing question many voters are struggling to answer.

Naomi Schalit

Senior Editor, Politics + Democracy

Donald Trump, left, and Joe Biden, both photographed on Nov. 2, 2023, are two of the three oldest men ever to serve as president. Trump: Brandon Bell/Getty Images; Biden: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Why are US politicians so old? And why do they want to stay in office?

Mary Kate Cary, University of Virginia

Many years beyond the average American retirement age, politicians vie for power and influence. Their constituents tend to prefer they step back and pass the torch to younger people.

People holding signs calling for an end to genocide in the Gaza Strip have been a common occurrence at pro-Palestinian protests. Christoph Reichwein/picture alliance via Getty Images

Both Israel and Palestinian supporters accuse the other side of genocide – here’s what the term actually means

Alexander Hinton, Rutgers University - Newark

People talk about genocide in a few different ways, ranging from technical to colloquial – but a war of words does not replace a path to peace, a genocide scholar writes.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks during a rally in Leesburg, Va., on Nov. 6, 2023. Alex Wong/Getty Images

As national political omens go, Republicans sought middle ground on abortion in Virginia − and still lost the state legislature

Stephen J. Farnsworth, University of Mary Washington

Democrats regained the Virginia legislature in the 2023 election, and that spells trouble for Republicans seeking to win the White House in 2024.

Israel-Hamas war puts China’s strategy of ‘balanced diplomacy’ in the Middle East at risk

Andrew Latham, Macalester College

Beijing’s tone on the Middle East crisis has shifted since Hamas’s initial attack, becoming increasingly pro-Palestinian.

It’s not just about facts: Democrats and Republicans have sharply different attitudes about removing misinformation from social media

Ruth Elisabeth Appel, Stanford University

One person’s content moderation is another’s censorship when it comes to Democrats’ and Republicans’ views on handling misinformation.

Defending space for free discussion, empathy and tolerance on campus is a challenge during Israel-Hamas war

David Mednicoff, UMass Amherst

A scholar of the Mideast at a large public university says that caring and a commitment to free speech have been central to his campus’s response to students upset and angry over the Israel-Hamas war.

Supreme Court considers whether to uphold law that keeps guns out of the hands of domestic abusers

Morgan Marietta, University of Texas at Arlington

An important tool in the fight against domestic violence is under scrutiny in a major US Supreme Court case.

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