When is it time for the cane to emerge from stage right to pull a politician no longer altogether there off stage? According to Jane Mayer’s piece in this week’s New Yorker, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had to ask California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, 87, twice, to step down from her position on the judiciary committee because she forgot the first time.

Either Feinstein’s really coy, or it’s really time for her to step down. But the questions raised in this piece may soon apply more broadly given the geriatric status of so many elected and appointed leaders today.

In Feinstein’s case, the signs have been accruing. In 2018, a year after she stepped down as Chairperson of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, news broke that a 20 year member of her staff was identified as a possible Chinese spy. The case got almost no news attention and seemed to disappear in a single cycle, but anyone seriously concerned with America’s national security might have then raised more than an eyebrow.

Then, last year, she was caught on camera berating a group of school children from California visiting her office on their Washington, D.C. trip. The kids wanted to talk to her about the environment, and she told them they didn’t know what they were talking about and that she just “won big” in her last reelection, so she clearly did.

However irritating one finds children, it was all a bit unseemly for a polished politician to behave that way.

In polite society, we try to write off senior moments. But when one is a senior politician whose ability to do their job is a matter of constituent and national interest, politeness needs to step aside. Phalanxes of staffers have allowed doddering members to go on for decades, literally on taxpayer-funded life support.

In the course of the Russia investigation, Feinstein’s former SSCI staffer Daniel Jones went on to start an opposition research firm, and received $50 million in funding from George Soros and Rob Reiner, used to pay Fusion GPS and planted Russia-gate scoops with friendly journalists. The fact that almost no on said a word speaks to the power faceless staffers wield over the persona and responsibilities of many politicians today.

The generous conclusion is that the elderly DiFi was simply not able to manage her staff, enabling scorched earth campaigns, lack of accountability and loss of face. Out of politeness, let’s assume that’s the case.

Our sclerotic political leadership, on both sides of the aisle, almost guarantees disappointment. But at the same time, the country just consciously chose boring over erratic and experienced over disruptive. So the qualities of age still have some appeal, relatively speaking. Still, infirmity is dangerous.

Whether it was her troubling coziness with Beijing at a time her husband was making tens of millions from China-based investments, or her allowing unethical, runaway antics, multiple times on her watch, Feinstein’s infirmity has become so glaring it was no longer possible to ignore. Even for a cold-blooded Republican, the shocking thing is the dispatch with which her Democrat colleagues threw her under the bus.

In voting for Biden, my step-father said something to the effect that it was the last time he’d pull the lever for anyone with white hair. In the good old days, old people had common sense about when to shuffle off towards the sunset and let the youth take over. The grasping nature of our times may have spoiled that. Or maybe not. To be continued…

Sam Patten is a recovering political consultant who was raised in Knox County and worked for Maine’s last three Republican senators.