We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Term Limits
Since I missed out on the earmarks debate between Jason and Doug this week (I agree with Doug, btw), I figured now would be a good time to “stir the pot” with regard to a subject that seems to be gaining ground among many in the more “conservative” political circles.
The meme among many involved in politics is that because we limit the number of terms for the Presidency, most Governorships, and many municipal officials, we should also limit the terms of those serving in Congress. The arguments are full of logic and seem to make a LOT of sense, and I think the idea is palatable for most Americans. The idea that a Senator would only serve two terms or that a Congressman would serve four or six or eight terms, depending on which proposal you read or hear about. My opposition lies, as do many things I find myself in the minority about, in the details.
Detail #1 - We already have term limits, sort of. We have limits on how long a Senator may serve (6 years), and we have limits on how long a Representative may serve (2 years). The problem is that we are not using OUR power at the ballot box to rid ourselves of the “bad guys.” A lot of this has to do with the power and money amassed by an incumbent as he or she spends every day after inauguration working to stay in power, but I think that many voters fall into the “MY guy isn’t the problem, it’s this guy” mentality when examining those who represent them. As voters, we have the opportunity to ditch our Senators and Representatives every six or two years, respectively. But we don’t. We fall into the partisan trap of looking at our Congressman or Senator through the lens of how they fit into our ideas as a representative of their party. We may severely dislike the politics, and sometimes the personality, of who we elect, but we are SO AFRAID of electing someone from that EVIL other party, rather than examining each candidate on their positions and considering “teaching a lesson” to the incumbent and their party.
Detail #2 - By limiting the number of terms a Congressman may serve, we inadvertently empower their staffs with the prestige and ability to arrange the slimy backroom deals with one another, rather than having the ELECTED official do the dirty work. Limiting terms also gives someone who is term-limited the ability to essentially groom and anoint their successor, which makes the earlier assertion about empowering the unelected even MORE likely. When a Congressman or Senator is term-limited, what is the likelihood they will jump right into the arms of a lobbying firm to massage their connections with their former staff and their anointed successor for the duration of that person’s terms?
Detail #3 - The people we wish to limit are the “deciders” when it comes to what legislation “makes it” and what does not. Do you really believe that our current crop of Senators and Representatives would willingly submit to such a neutering of their power and prestige? The only reason we saw the term limits on the Presidency in the 1940s was because many felt that President Franklin Roosevelt did not honor the two term standard set by our first Commander-in-Chief, George Washington, and Congress could limit the Executive branch without hurting themselves directly.
Often, libertarians and Libertarians alike stand in opposition to a proposal without a viable alternative.
Here are my solutions: Repeal the 17th Amendment, use the ballot box to keep your “frienemies” (those that represent you and your party but do not vote with your beliefs 90% of the time or more) in line, and force Congress to consider one subject at a time, rather than lumping bills together to “buy” votes.
By repealing the 17th Amendment, we empower states to send Senators to Washington to look out for the best interests of their state, knowing that they can be recalled and replaced at the discretion of the state legislatures. Instead of knowing they have six years in office to play politics, they can be held accountable to their state for each vote they cast, which is a boon for those of us that acknowledge the presence of the 10th Amendment.
When you hold your “frienemies” accountable and vote them out at the expense of electing someone from the “enemy” party, you can rid yourself of them with a primary challenger who is more closely aligned with your beliefs or hold your nose to elect someone who is less palatable for two years and then work to find someone who aligns with you to challenge that person.
If Congress considered one subject at a time, we would have a true accounting of how our Congressmen ACTUALLY think on an issue, and we could hold them accountable for their records. Currently, we allow them to hide behind their vote for something by accepting that they were voting for the “greater good” and the nonsense was thrown in. For example, by lumping federal funding of a pelican museum in Louisiana in with a bill that authorizes defense spending, we allow Congressmen to hide behind their support of defense spending to approve the pelican museum funding.
All of these ideas lead to the de-centralization of power from the banks of the Potomac River and put it back in the hands of states and the people, which is what our Founding Fathers envisioned.