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HORIST: Term limits and civil rights

HORIST: Term limits and civil rights

One of the issues that has wide appeal among the public – but not so popular with our political leaders – is the concept of term limits.  The idea of forcing political leaders to relinquish their office after a few years of service has been debated for years.

Opponents argue that in a democracy we should allow the people to decide in the voting booth.  Except we are not a pure democracy, but a democratic republic – which means that we the people do not decide all issues—we elect people to represent our interests.  That is an important distinction because in the republican form of government, authoritarian influences can arise and take over.  The more entrenched the power structure, the existential is the threat to our freedoms.

That became obvious when President Franklin Roosevelt broke the two-term tradition established by President Washington and was able to win four consecutive elections – serving until his death in 1945. FDR became so powerful that he was actually dubbed America’s first dictator.

The danger to the small-r republican form of government was so great and so obvious that shortly after Roosevelt’s death, the Congress passed the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution limiting future presidents to two terms.  It was subsequently ratified by the states.

Opponents also argue that limiting the terms of our legislators denies our legislative bodies the collective “institutional memory.”  It does, and that is term limits’ greatest benefit because it is institutional memory that enables lifetime legislators to manipulate the system to maintain control.  Think about it.  If you have no possibility of maintaining office for a lifetime, you have no motivation to rig the system.

Term limits is largely a partisan issue among the politicians — with Republicans generally in favor, and Democrats opposed.  Among the public, they have bipartisan support, with Republican, Democrat and independent voters favoring them by wide margins.

Particularly disappointing is the opposition by a lot of black Democrat legislators.  I single them out because of what term limits might have meant to the civil rights movement – and what still could mean in addressing the current racist policies of the Democrat machines in our cities.  But then again, a lot of those black legislators are part of those urban political machines.

It can be well argued that had America had term limits following the Civil War, racial justice might have arrived a lot sooner in America.  It may well have avoided that century of segregation following the Compromise of 1877 that removed federal troops from Dixie and led not only to the Democratic Party’s brutal racist authoritarian rule over the old Confederate States, but gave southern racist members of Congress enormous power over the most important committees as well as the national political scene.

Their power was derived from the fact that the southern Democrats were able to win one re-election campaign after another – serving in Congress for decades, even lifetimes.  Because Congress had no term limit rules on committee chairmanships until Republicans took over the House in 1994, those long-serving racist southern Democrats held on to the powerful chairmanships for decades.  They were known as the “solid Democrat bloc.”  Of course, when Democrats regained the house, they went back to the old seniority system.

Because of their enormous political influence within the Democratic Party, the solid Democrat bloc was the tail that wagged the dog.  They were the reason that Democrats nominated and elected such racist white supremacists as President Woodrow Wilson and FDR.  They were the reason that the New Deal was constructed by southern racists to actually take jobs away from Negroes.  They were the reason that Ku Klux Klanners like Hugo Black were appointed to the Supreme Court.  They were the reason that Roosevelt and the Democrats defeated several congressional Republican efforts to pass anti-lynching legislation that would have made it a federal crime.  They were the reason that black children were denied education in those “separate but (so-called) equal” school systems in the south (and in the major Democrat-controlled cities, for that matter).  They were the reason that oppressive segregation survived in the south for more than 100 years after the Civil War.

The power of the southern Democrats was evident in the fact that a southern Democrat had to be on the presidential ticket virtually every year – as President, Vice President or both.

What would have happened if term limits were the law of the land in those days of institutional racism?  Democrat members of Congress, like those with whom former Vice President Biden could deal – Mississippi Senator James Eastland (37 years in office) and Georgia Senator Herman Talmadge (24 years), by name – would have long been retired.

In fact, so would have been Virginia Senator Harry Byrd Sr. (32 years), Senator Richard Russell (38 years), South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond (48 years), Mississippi Senator John Stennis (48 years), Alabama Senator John Sparkman (33 years) to name just a few.  And so would have been West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, the last member of the Ku Klux Klan to serve in Congress – and he was there for 51 years until his death in 2010

In terms of the House, there are just too many of them to list, but you can be sure that the southern Democrats were just as powerful in the lower chamber.

Had the aforementioned faced a two-term limit for the Senate (and six for the House), the rotation would have brought into power – chairmanships — senators from other regions of the country – senators without the rabid racism of the southern Democrats.  It is arguable that with term limits the civil rights movement may have succeeded in the late 1800s – and most certainly in the early 1900s.  It would have changed everything.  The malignant racist faction of the Democratic Party would have been denied the power it enjoyed for too many years.

The conflict between wanting to allow voters maximum choices and the need to protect the Republic from authoritarian influences was best expressed by former Congressman, former White House Chief-of-Staff and two-time former Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld, who said, “It is a bad idea that’s time has come.”  Actually, it is not a bad idea – and its time has come.

So, there ‘tis.

About The Author

Larry Horist

So,there‘tis… The opinions, perspectives and analyses of Larry Horist Larry Horist is a businessman, conservative writer and political strategist with an extensive background in economics and public policy. Clients of his consulting firm have included such conservative icons as Steve Forbes and Milton Friedman. He has served as a consultant to the Nixon White House and travelled the country as a spokesman for President Reagan’s economic reforms. He has testified as an expert witness before numerous legislative bodies, including the U. S. Congress. Horist has lectured and taught courses at numerous colleges and universities, including Harvard, Northwestern, DePaul universities, Hope College and his alma mater, Knox College. He has been a guest on hundreds of public affairs talk shows, and hosted his own program, “Chicago In Sight,” on WIND radio. Horist was a one-time candidate for mayor of Chicago and served as Executive Director of the City Club of Chicago, where he led a successful two-year campaign to save the historic Chicago Theatre from the wrecking ball. An award-winning debater, his insightful and sometimes controversial commentaries appear frequently on the editorial pages of newspapers across the nation. He is praised by readers for his style, substance and sense of humor. According to one reader, Horist is the “new Charles Krauthammer.” He is actively semi-retired in Boca Raton, Florida where he devotes his time to writing. So, there ‘tis is Horist’s signature sign off.


  1. Curtis

    Term limits are very long over due. Should have been put in place LONG ago. No one should hold power for as long as many have. It is not fair. Lets get it done now.

  2. Fire21

    We the voters, apparently aren’t smart enough to weed out the career-minded politicians at the ballot box, nor are we smart enough to insist on a law that would do it for us. Although it’s sad to say, sometimes we just get what we deserve…

    • MJAlexander

      Can’t argue with that! This will continue until and unless we, the people, stop it. There IS a solution as big as the problem ==> #COSProject

  3. Phil in TX

    If you want term limits, don’t vote for those that run for office over and over and over again! A law would be handy to prevent “lifers” in government, but it can be accomplished at the ballot box. As my dear departed father-in-law used to say, “once they get elected, the only thing they do is work to stay elected”. We can and should get the job done ourselves by electing those that say they will get the job done and establish term limits in law. If they do not, throw them out next election for the candidate that says they will. Soon or late the candidates will get the message.
    Just for the record, in my 71 years I know of only one candidate for congress that said he would only serve one term. That was Alan Steelman from Texas and he made good on his promise.

    Phil in TX

    • MJAlexander

      Yeah, right, that’ll work, Phil… vote the bums out… where have we heard that before? What you’re suggesting here is that we’ve all been going to the polls every election for the last 71 years or so and voting for THE WRONG GUY, no matter how “informed” we think we are at the time. If that’s the case, what in the world makes you think that’s gonna change? Because you post something on the internet??? That’s just really another way of saying, “Do nothing different, and hope things will change.” There IS a solution as big as the problem ==> #COSProject

    • jims

      The problem with “voting the bums out” is that the primary system keeps putting the the incumbents back on the ballot. When the regular election comes around, you’re left with the choice of the multi term guy or the other party. I would have voted for the rotting corpse of Nixon before Hillary.
      We need some way to negate the incumbent advantage, and even the party advantage. Perhaps by using one of the “rated voting” plans. I’d also consider a rule that all campaign money must come from within the jurisdiction of the office… maybe.

  4. Ernie

    We not only need a four year term for ALL elected offices in the country with elections held every two years, half of them elected at a time and that would leave half with two years experience. The election run would only be allowed sixty days prior to the election. We need to return where the legislative bodies would be the ONLY source of new laws and regulations.
    Legislative bodies would be limited to only perks that the citizens of the nation are given and travel would be limited to the legislature themselves and would consist of ONE TRIP a year to their legislative districts, they would be responsible for obeying all of the laws they pass just the same as any other citizen. And the bureaucrats need to brought under control. They must not be allowed to write laws and regulations which they publish and then they become laws.

    • MJAlexander

      I like this, Ernie! And if there’s one more thing in our system of self-governance that I’d like to see summarily abolished it would be the institutionalized legislative-lobbying complex. Without trampling one’s right to petition, one good way I see of accomplishing this would be to propose and ratify an amendment to the Constitution, maybe call it the “Scattering Amendment,” that would incorporate your suggestions, plus actually change the physical structure of Congress by sending every Congressman and Senator home. Close down the Capitol Building except for those rare special sessions when they absolutely MUST meet in Washington.

      Why should they all be conveniently located in one building in DC, just a short walk from K Street? This is 2019, not 1787… we could institute a Virtual Congress… all debates and votes can be done electronically… legislators can be just as effective, if not more so, working from their LOCAL congressional offices back in their home states where they are much closer to their constituents, the ultimate source of their privilege. And they would be a WHOLE lot less susceptible to 24/7 schmoozing by the lobbyists.

      I know I sound like a wacko, but maybe sounding like a wacko is not such a bad thing. I’d rather be maligned for thinking outside the box than for naively believing that “vote the bums out” is going to accomplish anything that it hasn’t in the 100-plus years that we’ve been saying it, or that when it comes to prioritizing the effectual functioning of government, there’s more than a dime’s worth of difference between Republicans and Democrats. In this instance, as in so many others, they really do all belong to the UniParty.

  5. MJAlexander

    In my humble opinion, the solution to nearly every problem with our form of self-governance would be Term Limits.

    Now, having said that, I believe that the only truly effective structure would be to make it a single term, thus eliminating the need for re-election entirely.

    The problem is not really how long they stay in DC, it’s how much of their time they spend schmoozing at fund-raisers, making promises and raking in money for re-election. If everyone feels that twelve years for Senators and six years for representatives is “long enough,” then we could simply propose, debate and ratify a “One and You’re Done” Amendment that extends those terms accordingly… then sit back and watch the lobbyists on K Street self-deport!

    For those who say that things would only get worse, well maybe… but worse would be illegal.

    As things now stand, the First Amendment guarantees any constituent the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. That would include the NRA… oh, and Planned Parenthood, I might add.

    If a “One and You’re Done” Amendment removes reelection as an incentive for a lobbyists to “petition” a lawmaker, then the most likely alternative method of influence for a good lobbyist would be bribery or maybe extortion.

    Now, while 100% of legislators are currently up to their eyeballs in lobbyists, it’s quite a stretch to believe that even a small fraction of those would allow themselves to be dragged into clearly corrupt behavior, especially once corruption became the singular focus of a new oversight effort by the DOJ.

    OK… that was fun, but let’s get serious here… Congress will never do this to itself. The only way such an amendment will ever be proposed would be through the efforts of the people in the states… our own locally-elected state legislators must stand together and speak with one voice, the voice given to them by the Framers of the Constitution. They must invoke Section 2 of Article V and instruct Congress to call a Convention of States to Propose Amendments to the Constitution.

    Yeah, I know… pretty slim odds, but it’s better than standing around, putting up with this nonsense, waiting for a magical election to fix everything! #COSProject

  6. Cueburn

    What we have is “good citizens” not doing their political job: weeding out the entrenched elite at the ballot box! WE THE PEOPLE have to: 1) PAY ATTENTION & 2) VOTE IN EVERY ELECTION!
    Acum’s Razor says simple is always best! Don’t count on your long-term representitives in any/all offices
    to fix the cushy deal we have allowed them to have!

  7. John Wood

    No senator or congressman should be able to make a career of their so-called “service” to the Nation. They are actually serving themselves and their cronies. Term limits are in order. BTW, Some wish to remove term limits for POTUS which is a very bad idea.

  8. Dan Danser

    Term limits should also apply to the “fourth” branch of government LOBBYIESTS. They are the shadow government that influences legislators!