October 8th, 2009

Term Limits


photo credit: ultra-K

A commonly proposed solution to reduce the amount of corruption in Washington is to impose term limits on officeholders, thereby theoretically minimizing the amount of damage one corrupt politician can cause. The argument goes that incumbents often have an unfair advantage with a large war chest, a strong network of contacts, and other advantages that create a hurdle for would-be challenges to have a legitimate shot at winning an election against them.

Frankly, I believe term limits are a major cop-out—an excuse promoted to justify a dereliction of one’s duty.

The imposition of term limits is an artificial restraint to force a continual rotation of elected officials, thus removing the need for people to be actively engaged in participating in a campaign to win on merit alone. It ignores the collateral damage of ending a true statesman’s service prematurely, and incorrectly considers all congressmen to be like cow’s milk—short shelf life, firm expiration date.

By removing the incentive of possible re-election, you also remove an unstated restraint on immoral behavior. Essentially, a congressman who knows he is being “let go” at the end of his term is much like the guy at the office who has given his two weeks’ notice. Both lack a drive to work hard and external motive to refrain from behavior or actions that they otherwise would not have indulged in.

Proponents of term limits either casually forget or conveniently ignore the fact that “We the People” are the term limits. A process is already in place for terminating a politician’s employment which has repeatedly proven effective in the past. Any initiative to supplement or supplant this electoral selection system is an affront to our method of representation which dictates that people should be able to choose whom they prefer.

Term limits are a poor prescription for the diagnosis of congressional corruption; one does not take morphine for a case of indigestion. Rather than generalizing the remedy and affecting parts of the body that are operating just fine, it is better to localize the treatment and target the offending members specifically. Those who support term limits as a means of removing from office corrupt congressmen should divert their efforts into mounting campaigns for a more worthy candidate, rather than trying to alter the system to work in their favor. The system is not broken—we are.

21 Responses to “Term Limits”

  1. Skyler Collins
    October 8, 2009 at 11:06 am #

    Would you propose we end all term limits that currently exist, such as the office of the President?

  2. bcrockett
    October 8, 2009 at 11:50 am #

    Some good points Connor, but here’s the way I see it:

    First, if they truly are statesmen, they won’t shirk their duty upon relaization that their “expiration date” is near. If, on the other hand, one is the type of politician that would slack off towards the end—that’s exactly the reason we need term limits. Get those people out.

    Second, it seems to me that politicians nearing the end of their terms are actually the ones that become most effective—they vote more honestly because they no longer have a reason to play politics.

    Third, term limits would effectively bring an end to career politicians who, in my opinion, tend to be the worst type of politician: out of touch due to extended time in the political circle; tainted by their deeper knowledge of how to make things work in their own favor; their dependency on re-election becomes an impetus for resorting to drastic measures to hide anything that would spoil chances of re-election, not to mention the upholding of laws, precedent, etc. that enable politicians to wield more power than the Founding Fathers ever envisioned they should have.

    Just my thoughts, but they seem to me a compelling reason for term limits despite your great points.

  3. Kelly W.
    October 8, 2009 at 3:36 pm #

    great thoughts, bcrockett.

    For years now I have made it a practice to step into the voting booth and vote NO where it asks if such-and-such a judge shall be retained. These judges are almost totally unknown among the voting public. How am I supposed to know if they are good judges and should be retained?

    But, about 99% of the voting public step into the voting booth and vote YES, to retain them. What stupidity! If those judges were worried they might be voted out, they would certainly do a better job and not sit back with the mistaken belief that they can do anything they want and they will still be voted back in.

    Vote NO on the judges – all of them – unless you somehow know them to be not corrupt.

    They will be there until they retire, career judges, just like those career politicians we are talking about.

  4. bcrockett
    October 8, 2009 at 3:48 pm #

    Thanks Kelly W.

    I hadn’t thought about judges. While I don’t really think of judges as politicians, I agree that almost nobody knows who they are when they’re voting for them (although voter pamphlets give a really good description of complaints, overturned cases, etc. for each).

    But I don’t see how voting against judges while not knowing their track record is much different from voting straight-party (which I’m strongly against).

    Rather, I recommend #1- going to the booth informed even on judges (never know when you’ll find yourself in court, after all) #2- If you’re not informed on a particular judge, abstain from voting for or against that person. Let those with legitimate concerns one way or the other do the voting. Since judges generally don’t do much campaigning, those in a position to know of corruption have a strong voice as long as the crushing weight of uninformed voters don’t drown them out.

  5. Skyler Collins
    October 8, 2009 at 4:06 pm #

    I would consider becoming informed on every candidate in every category on the ballot as “irrational” considering (1) the likelihood of your vote counting and (2) the likelihood that the outcome of each vote would effect you to any consequence.

    I wonder Connor’s thoughts on judges (local, state, federal, SCOTUS) and term limits.

  6. Kelly W.
    October 9, 2009 at 10:06 am #

    bcrockett, Skyler,

    you have some great thoughts. My solution to the problem of voting has been to register as a permanent absentee voter. The ballot is mailed to my house each election, and then I sit down with the ballot AND the voter’s pamphlet and then carefully consider each vote I make.

    Last election as I did this, I found that some of the people on the ballot didn’t have anything written up about them. So I took it upon myself to do a little Internet searching of my own. What I turned up in that internet searching surprised me. I actually changed my initial leanings according to that research I did! (Even IF the info isn’t in the voter’s pamphlet, can you trust what’s written there? I know it’s all we can get, sometimes.)

    I also was able to study up in depth on the Constitutional wording changes. I found that one of the wording changes didn’t have any for or against arguments.

    Marking my ballot last time took me literally hours. Who is going to stand in the voting booth for hours?

    Even when you attempt to cast good votes by study, who’s to say that what you read from a candidate is a true representation of what they’re really all about. (For instance, Obama promised to close Guantanamo and get out of Iraq!)

    I even scanned the ballot in on my scanner, and sent out a pdf of it to everyone on my email list. In this way I could encourage them to study the ballot BEFORE they actually walked into the voting booth.

    I encourage EVERYBODY to take the simple step of registering as a permanent absentee voter. It is so very simple. You can even do it online by printing out the form from the internet and then mailing it to your county offices.

  7. Clumpy
    October 9, 2009 at 3:47 pm #

    Connor, not an issue I’d thought about in some time but I agree – what’s inherent in eight years that enables democracy but is destroyed if the individual continues for another term?

  8. Clumpy
    October 10, 2009 at 11:52 am #

    Caveat – except for all of those dystopian futures wherein an eight-term Nixon plunges the world into a corrupt nightmare. That’s unlikely enough at this point that I feel we’re safe.

  9. Connor
    October 10, 2009 at 10:07 pm #

    Good comments, all.

    Skyler,

    Would you propose we end all term limits that currently exist, such as the office of the President?

    I should have clarified it better in the post, but I was referring to congressional term limits. I support a term limit on the president and most (all?) other offices that are not directly elected by the people. It is the representative vote of the people I am concerned about most here.

    That being said, if we were to abolish the seventeenth amendment and return the Senate back to the way it was intended, then I would not oppose term limits on the Senate, either.

    bcrockett,

    First, if they truly are statesmen, they won’t shirk their duty upon relaization that their “expiration date” is near. If, on the other hand, one is the type of politician that would slack off towards the end—that’s exactly the reason we need term limits. Get those people out.

    Agreed on the first point. People of noble intent will do the right thing regardless of how much time they have left. But my argument here (that I made in the post, too) is, why would we want to kick these good people out of office? Why should they only be given X years to fight the good fight?

    As per getting those people out, I don’t think term limits solves much. Whether it’s one congressmen slacking for 16 years or two congressmen slacking for 8 years in succession, I don’t see much difference. I think the people can and should be the arbiters of which congressmen are failing, and boot them out and put in a new and better person. It’s our responsibility, not that of some artificial rule, to put good people in office and prevent the bad ones from being re-elected.

    Second, it seems to me that politicians nearing the end of their terms are actually the ones that become most effective—they vote more honestly because they no longer have a reason to play politics.

    Do you have any examples?

    Consider the power of presidential pardons. There are numerous stories of “midnight pardons” to use the power before the expiration of one’s term, but not to have to suffer the political consequences since they’ll soon be out of office. Other examples exist (think Marbury v. Madison, for example) that illustrate the same thing.

    Consider the popularity of the term “lame duck Congress” and I think you’ll see that there isn’t much support for your position; one might argue that they are more effective (?), but they certainly don’t all of a sudden promote good legislation before they’re sent home or lose power.

    Third, term limits would effectively bring an end to career politicians…

    This is something that we can already do, if we are informed, organized, and active enough. Why rely on a rule that would punish good “career politicians”? I can’t help but think what the freedom movement would look like today (would it even exist on a large scale?) had Rep. Ron Paul been prevented from running for office after one or two terms.

    It’s wheat and tares, for me. Gather up and burn the tares (vote the bad politicians out of office), but don’t harm the wheat in the process. Burning the entire field to plan new seeds doesn’t yield a productive crop. Target the weeds and let the good plants grow.

    Kelly,

    How am I supposed to know if they are good judges and should be retained?

    Do your homework before hand? ;)

    Skyler,

    I would consider becoming informed on every candidate in every category on the ballot as “irrational” considering (1) the likelihood of your vote counting and (2) the likelihood that the outcome of each vote would effect you to any consequence.

    For me, voting isn’t necessarily about outcome. It’s about participation and responsibility. More of my thoughts on this issue here.

    I wonder Connor’s thoughts on judges (local, state, federal, SCOTUS) and term limits.

    As per my earlier response to you, I would not oppose term limits on positions not directly elected by the people. (In other words, I’d like to prevent an entrenched incumbency from political backscratching to retain power). For judges that are seated through the people’s vote, I see no need for term limits.

    Kelly,

    My solution to the problem of voting has been to register as a permanent absentee voter. The ballot is mailed to my house each election, and then I sit down with the ballot AND the voter’s pamphlet and then carefully consider each vote I make.

    This is what I do, and encourage others to do, as well.

    Clumpy,

    Connor, not an issue I’d thought about in some time but I agree – what’s inherent in eight years that enables democracy but is destroyed if the individual continues for another term?

    Good one.

  10. Ethan
    October 12, 2009 at 3:42 pm #

    The one problem I have with the premise of this is that the entire argument is based off of the idea that people will live up to “their duty” of being an informed, responsible voter. It seems apparent to me that the vast majority of the public has no intention of educating themselves on the issues and candidates upon which they vote. While I feel there is a moral obligation to abstain from voting if you are not informed on the issues at hand, much of society doesn’t.

    Is it possible to use term limits as a means to protect ourselves and our government from a dishonest, self-interested politician becoming entrenched in office due to consistently apathetic and irresponsible voting? I would think that at least then we have the chance of a true statesman getting into office.

  11. Connor
    October 12, 2009 at 8:35 pm #

    The one problem I have with the premise of this is that the entire argument is based off of the idea that people will live up to “their duty” of being an informed, responsible voter.

    They may not live up to it, but then they’ll just reap the consequences of their actions (or, well, inaction). I don’t think artificial and arbitrary limits fix the issue at hand, and as I argue in the post, I think it raises additional (and perhaps worse) concerns.

    I would think that at least then we have the chance of a true statesman getting into office.

    …and then getting him removed from office soon thereafter.

  12. Ethan
    October 12, 2009 at 9:12 pm #

    They may not live up to it, but then they’ll just reap the consequences of their actions

    True, but we have to live with it as well. The question is whether we are more likely to continue to have apathetic voters and thus need to guard against that or whether we will be able to motivate voters to become informed and can actually have good statesmen in office. Sadly, I am skeptical of the latter disappearing anytime soon.

    I agree that term limits are not the best solution, especially when compared to the ideal of a well informed and motivated electorate. But the ideal seems to be slipping further and further away. Do we ever take steps to guard against the reality of what is taking place?

  13. Kelly W.
    October 12, 2009 at 9:13 pm #

    Connor writes:

    “How am I supposed to know if they are good judges and should be retained?

    Do your homework before hand?”

    I agree, Connor. But my point was that people who do NOT do their homework before hand will almost ALWAYS just vote yes to retain them. My suggestion was that if you DON’T know before hand who is good and who is corrupt, why have a default or straight-ticket vote to retain them? I suggest instead the default vote would be better to vote them out if we didn’t know before hand if they were corrupt or not.

    A vote to retain them if we have no before hand knowledge is pretty stupid. Even stupider than voting no on all of them!

  14. Dan C.
    October 13, 2009 at 7:29 pm #

    Like Connor, I too feel that officials elected by the common voice of the people should retain their office as long as the public permit it. Having said that, I absolutely feel that term limits should be instated.

    If we lived in a world where the vote of the people represented a confidence in their representative based on their actual performance record and values, then a term limit would not be required.

    As it is, 99% of the people (including myself, sometimes) are in fact uninformed, and seemingly vote for whoever their favorite talk show host likes best. In all honesty, the chances of the average person getting a clear cut view of how an official has represented (or may represent) the voice of their constituents without investing an absurd amount of time is unlikely. With so much mud slinging and contention among party supporters, it can become frustrating to sort out what is really going on. Therefore, there are really only six votes cast: Opera’s, Fox’s, NPR’s, ABC’s, NBC’s, CBS’s.

    Because the majority of the vote represents what people have been led to believe by the voice of the most persuasive, or most convenient, informants, rather than what has been independently reasoned from fact obtained through total transparency, it stands to reason, then, that elected officials are seldom elected by the common voice of the people, and a term limit ought to be imposed to prevent those favored by the few in control of the information in this country from remaining in power.

    That’s right, I fit that all into one sentence :)

    I think a term limit would improve the quality of the incumbent. It would weed out those that get googly eyed at the thought of term after term of bribes and power. Who go to work for special interest groups, rather than their constituents, and get away with it because NO ONE WATCHES C-SPAN; and then polish up their image with campaign funds from their new buddies in the oil biz.

    A term limit attracts individuals that want to make a difference in their country so badly that they don’t care if they only get X years to do it. Because they go into the office knowing they only have so long to get their work done, they work harder. I like to think that’s why most missionaries come home absolutely exhausted, because there are only two years to get what you set out to do done.

    A term limit raises the bar. Until such a day comes that all people vote based on actual facts rather than how many times Opera praises a candidate, or swoons at him, a term limit would serve the people well.

  15. Ciera Thayne
    October 15, 2009 at 7:02 pm #

    I agree.

  16. Nelson Lee Walker
    October 20, 2009 at 12:27 pm #

    Agreed, Congress is OUR collective fault. And good or bad, term limits is our only effective way to fix our bad voting habits.

    The only infallible, unstoppable, guaranteed way to get a truly new Congress is :
    NEVER REELECT ANY INCUMBENT! AND DO IT EVERY ELECTION!

    The American voter must IMPOSE term limits by NEVER REELECTING ANYONE IN CONGRESS, AND DO IT EVERY ELECTION! In other words, don’t let anyone serve more than one term. That’s the only way to teach them that the voter is boss! The “one term limit” can be eased AFTER citizens get control of Congress.

    Congress will never allow us to constitutionally term limit them by an amendment. Our only choice is to NEVER REELECT them. All of them!

    The number of ‘good guys’ left in Congress is negligible, so if we threw ALL 535 members out, we wouldn’t do as much damage as the good we would gain by by turning Congress into a bunch of honest, innocent freshmen.

    Some of the reasons in favor of this approach:

    • It gives us a one-term, term limited Congress without using amendments
    • It is supported by 70% of the country who want term limits
    • It is completely non-partisan
    • If repeated, it ends career politicians dominating Congress
    • It opens the way to a “citizen Congress”
    • It ends the seniority system that keeps freshmen powerless
    • It doesn’t cost money…but you MUST vote NO for any incumbent
    • It is the only guaranteed, infallible, unstoppable way to throw them ALL out”
    • It takes effect immediately the day after Election Day
    • If it doesn’t work, do it again and again! It will work eventually, I promise.

    NEVER REELECT ANYONE IN CONGRESS. AND DO IT EVERY ELECTION!

    Nelson Lee Walker of tenurecorrupts.com

  17. Kevin Delaney
    November 15, 2009 at 2:55 pm #

    I am not sure if this is a good thing or bad thing. A person reaching the end of a term is likely to be actively seeking a post in a different office. A Congressman who is hoping to become senator will maintain a high level of statesmanship.

    Of course many others will be selling out for the highest bidder.

    On the question of term limits, it is interesting that the United States rejected the term limits of the Hundoran Constituion and joined Hugo Chavez in actively seeking to re-instate Zelaya.

  18. JoeSwiss
    December 4, 2009 at 6:15 am #

    The correct answer is that Term Limits are a good thing.

    The true statesman, George Washington, walked out when it was time, setting an example.

    Our current set of career politicians, if they had an ear anymore for what statesmanship is, should feel an increasing self-consciousness and embarrassment about staying in office so long. What made them so special?

    They need to make way for all the new statesmen born with this kind of talent in an increasingly populous nation. The ratio of opportunity to available statesmanship talent grows ever smaller, with a fixed numerator of 535 to 305 in population.

    A newly-elected official’s awareness of term limits brings out statesmanship, not inhibits it.

    After warning us of “the legislative department … everywhere extending the sphere of its activity, and drawing all power into its impetuous vortex” in FP48, and after proposing the separation of powers doctrine to restrain this problem, as well as the splitting up of the legislature into two different branches, Madison concludes in FP 51, “It may even be necessary to guard against dangerous [legislative branch] encroachments by still further precautions.”

    The time is overdue for Madison’s “further precautions”. Term limits is one of them.

    To put the issue into a bigger perspective, reviving states rights, and the 9th and 10th amendments, are further overdue precautions. And nullification.

    It is time to get mean and nasty with the federal government. The sooner the better.

  19. Nelson Lee Walker
    December 4, 2009 at 2:59 pm #

    I believe the following would REALLY work! And it would only take a couple of elections! Please give me some feedback

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FrAOe4w1zzw

  20. Nelson Lee Walker
    February 13, 2010 at 5:00 pm #

    One thing that is never discussed when term limits comes up is the fact that the Congressional reelection rate previous to WWII was about 50%. For the last 25 years, it has been 95% and shows signs of approaching 100% give or take.

    And this is in spite of the fact that the public has a historically ever lower opinion of Congress.

    Obviously, getting people to do their duty is a flop!!!

    I believe that changing this sad state if affairs requires near violent revolution. And that revolution is NEVER REELECT ANYONE IN CONGRESS, AND DO IT EVERY ELECTION, UNTIL WE GET TERM LIMITS

  21. Nelson Lee Walker
    June 5, 2010 at 1:18 pm #

    Here’s a practical Tea Party type strategy to create a “Citizen Congress”

    A Congress of career politicians will never represent “We the People”, because their highest priority is getting reelected with the help of Big Money.

    But “We the People” have more votes than “Big Money” has, and thus can end Congress as a career for professional politicians by never reelecting incumbents.

    We can impose single terms every two years, by never reelecting Congress.

    Always vote, but only for challengers. Never reelect incumbents.

    Keep this up until Congress is mostly “one-termers”, a citizen Congress.

    Then keep it up every election, to make a citizen Congress a permanent reality.

    Every American’s only intelligent choice is to never reelect anyone in Congress!

    The only infallible, unstoppable, guaranteed way to get a truly new Congress,

    and a cleaned up new politics is

    NEVER REELECT ANY INCUMBENT! DO IT EVERY ELECTION

    tenurecorrupts.com

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