For the record, I am a registered Independent who leans right and a supporter of the Tea Party Movement here in the United States. As that particular movement grows, it is beginning to develop a platform. One element of said platform is the amending of the U.S. Constitution to include term limits for both Houses. The following site, http://www.termlimits.org/, is gaining influence and support. Its goal is to establish a limit of two terms to Senators and three terms for Representatives. Currently, each term of a Representative lasts two years; they are apportioned according to the population of a state; and, by law, the total maximum allowed in the House is 435. Likewise, each term of a Senator lasts six years and each state is allowed two such Senators. With this in mind, I believe it worthwhile to reflect on the pros and cons of implementing term limits, if any.
Let’s start with the benefits. To my mind, I can cite roughly four. First and foremost, it limits general corruption in the houses by forcibly removing sitting Congressmen. Any congressman who is corrupt only has a certain maximum amount of allotted time to work harm, then he is gone. Second, it helps to erase the notion of a “political class” or “ruling elite.” That is, it does away with whatever sense of entitlement long-sitting congressmen might have. Third, it allows for a continuous influx of new blood, fresh faces, and, hopefully, bold, new ideas and a willingness to try them. Fourth, it re-establishes that the power of the government is drawn from the people, not the other way around. Finally, there is, to my mind, just a general sense that term limitations are better, but in a manner hard to quantify.
Are there drawbacks?
Of course there are. Most notably, it removes the good Congressmen with the bad (although, at this point I think most of us would call that a fair trade). Additionally, and more importantly, in any legislative body, there is a hope and need that it NOT consist entirely of greenhorns. That is, there is a need to retain some people with experience. This is true for both domestic policy, as well as foreign policy-although, I think more so for the latter than the former. Everyone of us of voting age should have some general sense of the economy and other domestic issues simply due to the fact that all of us live in the United States. In my mind, foreign policy is a little more complex. If you add in the fact that the average individual does not have access to information from the various U.S. intelligence agencies, the distinction becomes even more clear. Could Joe the Plumber sit down and effectively negotiate with Vladimir Putin? Honestly, I don’t know and I certainly don’t mean to belittle Joe the Plumber. However, I’m inclined to think he would need some political seasoning first and there is nothing wrong with that.
Despite the efforts of the organization U.S. Term Limits noted above, it is my belief that the ideal term limit for all Representatives, Senators, and, of course, Presidents is simply a term limit of one. I believe this primarily because of the enormous expense, energy expenditure, and general distraction involved in running for re-election. Our leaders should be involved only with the welfare of our country and nothing else. The obvious problem with this approach is two fold. First, those in office might not have sufficient time to get anything constructive done (or perhaps this is a blessing). And again, there is the experience issue. It could be solved, though, not by allowing multiple terms, but rather by extending the length of each term. After all, if we are to discuss term limits, why not open ourselves to all the possibilities? For example, suppose we extend the Representatives’ term to four or six years, the President’s to six or perhaps eight, and the Senators’ to ten or twelve. We could also include such things as no-confidence votes at mid-term or whenever to remove incompetent or corrupt leaders. Anyway, such is food for thought.
Basically, what I’m saying is that there is no intrinsic reason beyond tradition why the two year, four year, six year schematic should be maintained… at least, not that I can think of. Certainly, if those lengths were chosen for “mathematical neatness” that hardly qualifies as a good reason to maintain them if we find a different structure that suits us better. Assuming it is legal (which I think it is), if we are considering amending the Constitution to include term limits, perhaps we can restructure the very lengths of the terms as well. I truly do believe that one term is ideal, as long as there exists some mechanism to remove power abusers, corrupt, or simply incompetent individuals from office. If nothing else, I think such an approach should be considered.