Celebrating “Term Limits Day”
February 27th was “Term Limits Day”. It is not an official national holiday – although maybe it should be. It is the day that the folks trying to place term limits on members of Congress – and others – have selected as a time to promote the idea.
Most folks are probably unaware of Term Limits Day – or even the progress that movement has been making around the country. In fact, a number of states and municipalities have already limited the terms of office for governors, state legislators, and others. Not yet Congress, however.
February 27th was selected as the unofficial day-of-observance because that is the day that the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution was officially ratified by the states, limiting the President of the United States to two terms.
The resolution was passed by Congress in a bipartisan vote and sent to the states for ratification. It was enacted in 1947 as a direct result of President Franklin Roosevelt’s unprecedented election to four terms – although he only lived out a few months of that fourth term. Roosevelt was the first President to ignore President Washington’s admonition to step down after two terms. After Washington, six two-term presidents had declined to run for a third term citing his example.
Leaders of both political parties recognized that Roosevelt had amassed too much authoritarian power. He was even referred to as “America’s first dictator.”
Those close enough to know the facts were aware that even as Roosevelt campaigned for a fourth term, he was terminally ill – a dead man walking. He would not survive the first year of his new term. The American people were deceived by a cabal of folks surrounding Roosevelt for the purpose of maintaining power.
Term limits push against that old adage that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. And it does not just happen to presidents. Recently, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan – a member of the Daley political machine — stepped down amid scandals after serving 49 years in the legislature and 38 years as Speaker of the House. His power is now seen as the reason for Illinois’ history of corrupt politics and policies.
Political longevity was the reason that all those racist Democrat Senators and House members were able to maintain the most powerful legislative chairmanships in Congress. It was the reason that Chicago’s Richard J. Daley was referred to as “da boss” rather than “the mayor.” In fact, virtually all the corrupt political machines – James Prendergast in Kansas City, Missouri, James Curley in Boston and Robert Byrd in West Virginia– maintained corrupt power by relying on longevity in office.
Democrat politicians hate term limits because they are the party of power – and term limits prevent them from establishing the long-held seats necessary to amass power. Some Republicans opposed term limits because they believe in the absolute right of the voters to decide when a person should leave office.
That is a worthy sentiment, but I think the late Don Rumsfeld expressed that position in his inimitable way. Looking at the modern political environment, he said that “terms limits are a bad idea that’s time has come.” Indeed, it has.
Democrat and Republican politicians also oppose term limits because they want to stay on the lucrative public payroll forever. That is why it is so difficult to get Congress to pass the required resolution for a constitutional Amendment. You see the problem when you look at those members of Congress who pledge to self-limit – and brushed aside that pledge after they serve the limited time. That is the intoxication –corruption – of power.
BUT … the ability to manipulate the powers of public office to ensure repeated election victories is the Achilles Heel of democracy. Democracy draws its strength from refreshing the political class periodically with new ideas – and by eliminating those who use “institutional memory” to game the system. We have all seen the high-minded freshman officeholder evolve into a self-centered politician as the years roll by. That is what term limits are designed to prevent.
And remember, our nation’s Founders intended for public service in the various legislatures – including Congress – to be a part-time service, not a professional career.
If Congress will not limit itself, how does it get done?
Weeell… there is another way to enact a constitutional amendment. It had never been done before. It is called “a convention of states.” If Congress will not pass a constitutional resolution amendment to be considered by the states, then the states, themselves, can convene a convention to pass such amendments.
In case you had not noticed, five states have passed resolutions calling for a convention limited specifically to Congressional term limits and 17 have called for multi-subject conventions that include Congressional term limits. Two-thirds of the states, or 34, are required to apply for a convention for it to be called into existence.
Just imagine. If we had had such a limitation in the Constitution, all those powerful Washington politicians would have been gone into retirement years ago. No more Biden. No more Schumer. No more McConnell. No more Pelosi. No more McCarthy. And no more of virtually all the old guard. The average age of our leaders would be more like 55 than in the late 70s.
I rarely use my commentary to promote a specific organization. But I believe that term limits are essential to the preservation of the American democracy. So… U.S. Term Limits is the organization that helped pass term limits on 15 state legislatures in the 1990s and is concentrating on Congress today. For more information, see www.termlimits.com or email Philip Blumel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is one cause that every voting American … Republican or Democrat … conservative or liberal … can get behind. It is a bipartisan people’s movement that you should support.
So, there ‘tis.