I'm on record as being less than thrilled with the eulogizing of Robert Byrd, whose major accomplishments as a senator seem to have involved funneling money back to West Virginia and holding down his seat for a really, really long time. The length of his tenure placed him third in line for the presidency as president pro tempore, but since his passing, he's been replaced in that role by Hawaii's Daniel Inouye, who is 85. Chris Bonanos wonders if this setup, which coincides with the aging of the Senate in general, might call for a change in the pro tempore rules.
It's not outlandish to suggest that managing the business of a powerful and complex state like New York or California is, even for a legislator, inherently more policy-driven than doing so for Alaska or West Virginia, and therefore more likely to qualify someone to be president. Instead, we have a system that inherently favors provincial guys who are good at hanging on to their jobs.
Therefore, since the president pro tempore is chosen not for his power but for his length of service, the job is likely to always go to a very, very old political hack. Which is fine for most of the president pro tem's job: gavel-wielding when the vice-president is out doing vice-presidential things. But presidential succession is another matter. (Do we want someone three heartbeats away who may, in fact, have only three or four heartbeats left in him?)
Bonanos suggests a move in which the majority leader becomes pro tempore. That seems more politically feasible than setting some other effective cap on the age of the president pro tempore, like Senate term limits. As labor intensive as being a senator might be, it's not remotely as grueling as being president -- a job for which the doddering Strom Thurmond was prominently positioned for just a few years ago at the age of 100.
-- Gene Demby