Speed Reads

2014 Watch

Ralph Hall's loss: What does ousting a 91-year-old vet say about us?


Coming just one day after Memorial Day, the timing of Rep. Ralph Hall's defeat in Tuesday night's Texas Republican primary runoff makes it irresistible to avoid asking some larger questions about changing American attitudes. Now, starting next year, there will be no World War II veterans serving in Congress.

As The Washington Post reported,

Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas), the oldest-serving member of Congress and one of the last World War II veterans serving on Capitol Hill, became the first incumbent House lawmaker to lose a primary challenge this year by losing Tuesday night to a tea party-backed challenger.

Hall lost to John Ratcliffe, a former U.S. attorney and small-town mayor who spent more than $500,000 of his own fortune to defeat the 18-term incumbent, especially on television ads that raised questions about whether 91-year old Hall was still fit to hold elective office. [The Washington Post]

There was a time when voters would have probably returned Hall to office, if only out of loyalty or respect for his past service. (Indeed, how many times do you suspect he was re-elected based on this?) To be sure, there were a lot of problems with this old way of thinking, which likely led to entrenched power, cronyism, and out-of-touch representatives.

But why are things changing now? Is an 89-year old congressman fine, but a 91-year old one isn't? Or has something else shifted? This feels like the kind of move made by a mobile, ruggedly individualistic people — not of a communitarian, populist society. What, if anything, might this say about our declining reverence for our elders — and/or the rapidly diminishing connection and reverence we have for The Greatest Generation?