Time to get serious about term limits
Even in these times of great national division, there is one issue that should bring us all together as we look over the current political scene – term limits.
For we conservatives, that means no House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. No Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. No Adam Schiff. No Maxine Waters. No Jerry Nadler. It is likely that septuagenarian Joe Biden would have been retired to his basement in Delaware – having completed his two-term limit way back in 1985.
For the left, there would be no Senate Majority Leader McConnell. No House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. No more Congressmen Nunes or Senator Grassley.
The idea of term limits does not rest easy in the heart of a true conservative – especially those with libertarian leanings. We are believers in maximum choice. Leave it up to the people. When asked about his opinion on term limits, former Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld captured the dilemma of a conservative when he responded that “terms limits are a bad idea that’s time has come.”
Why are term limits a good idea?
We got the first example when President Franklin Roosevelt broke George Washington’s tradition of self-limiting presidential terms to two. FDR was able to amass power and manipulate incumbency to win two more elections. It earned him the appellation as “America’s first dictator.”
So dangerous was the FDR precedent that Congress and the states passed the first term limit provision – the Twenty-Second Amendment. Since that time, term limits have been enacted to cover many local and state offices.
Republicans (conservatives) tend to like the idea of term limits – and have generally been the driving force wherever they have been instituted. Democrats prefer to retain power for long periods. That is what made the racist Democrats from the segregated south so powerful as long-serving congressional chairmen. It is what makes the entrenched Democrat political machines in our major cities so powerful – and the creation of such political bosses as Chicago’s Richard J. Daley (21 years) and his son Richard M. (22 years).
Opponents of term limits lament the loss of what they call “institutional memory” – that ability to learn how to manipulate the complex legislative workings. In reality, that is the benefit of term limits. The most significant thing learned by prolonged participation is how to get re-elected over and over again. In any given election year, 80 to 90 percent of incumbents running for re-election get re-elected. Their ability to remain in office shifts from keeping the folks back home happy to gaming the system.
Term limits would help prevent the establishment of that self-indulgent political establishment – and, at the same time, bring fresh thinking to the process. We would end the problem of lifelong career politicians. Public services would be what one does temporarily apart from a private sector career.
Term limits would more frequently pass the torch of leadership to new generations. If that was the case in the past, we would not have an 80-year-old Speaker of the House. A 78-year-old career politician running for President. You would not have almost one-half of the Senate (48 members) past the traditional retirement age of 65 – with 27 over 70 and six over 80. In a bit of irony, the oldest member of Congress – both houses – is the not so young Alaska Congressman Don Young (86).
Perhaps we should rename the chambers to the United States Senile and the Old Folks House.
Our Founders never intended elective office to be a lifetime career. It was something you did for a while and then went back to being a private citizen. One way to avoid evolution toward authoritarian governance is to change our leaders on a regular time-table – and term limits is the way to do that.
If we are to continue to strive toward a more perfect union, term limits would be the next positive step.
So. There ‘tis.