Term Limits…Be Careful What You Wish for

Who, on a pretty regular basis upon hearing of the collective shenanigans in Washington, doesn’t, in utter desperation, shout out, “Throw the bums out?” Or, “Term limits are the only way to fix this mess.”

My internal equivocation on the issue has been a bit self-embarrassing.  The problem hasn’t gone away.  The politicians behave as they always have, but I vacillate.  Every time I think I’ve nailed down my stance, I hear or read someone else’s perspective and fall back into intellectual purgatory.

We all know the professional political class, enabled by the inherent power of incumbency, is unresponsive to the electorate; its thirst for power and control quenched by the ever-flowing fireplug known as federal money.  Helping a constituent resolve a problem concerning a Social Security claim is less than trivial compared to doling out the taxpayers’ cash through the many avenues available.

States, towns, cities, individuals…and let’s not forget lobbyists…kneel at the alter of the dispensers of largesse, begging for a few crumbs.  Some ask for a whole loaf; others want the bakery.  The beggars get what they want (or some of it), contribute mightily to the dispenser’s next campaign and the cycle continues.  And with each cycle, the dispensers’ collection of the beggars’ IOUs grows. Time passes, seniority and power grow.  Damn, what a country!

Of course, the Founders never envisioned a professional political class.  The closest they came was the Senate.  But until the Seventeenth Amendment came along, Senators were beholden to their respective states, representing the collective interests, not needing the votes and contributions of everyone and everything else.

I think we can all agree the status quo is, indeed, a mess.  The ‘system’ at present does not encourage statesmanship or deep, forward-thinking wisdom; the ‘system’ incentivizes total focus on the next election.

Seems there are two options, but with three potential outcomes.

Number 1: the status quo; enough said.

Number 2: a constitutional change allowing for some sort of term limits.  Oh, it sounds so appealing, but what could we expect in terms of an outcome?  The answer seems obvious, but is it, really?

Ideally, and it’s the conventional wisdom’s operating assumption, term limits would attract candidates whose goals are not to become permanent members of the political ruling class; by definition, one would not exist.  They would be focused on doing the ‘right thing’ knowing in a fixed number of years they would be going home.

But here, my deep cynicism kicks in…it’s taken over 50 years to develop.

The question I pose:  would term limits actually attract a different type of politician; or, would the same type politicians be running, but possess a more keen skill set, allowing them to grab power, set themselves up for their next job, and dramatically grow their personal net worth…just in a shorter period of time?

Is it possible that we could actually elect politicians who have the talent to greatly accelerate the corruptive process?  Ugly thought.

There you have it, my conundrum.  I would appreciate your comments and sincerely hope you can dissuade me of at least some of my cynicism.

Rodney Page

Author, “Powers Not Delegated”…a conservative political thriller  

…What Could Have Been and Might Still Be

Available November 2012

Author Bio:

graduate of the Grady College of Journalism at the University of Georgia, Rodney authored “Leading Your Business to the Next Level,” a non-fiction business book in 2005. “Powers Not Delegated” is Rodney’s first foray into fiction; the book meshes his knowledge of history, business and current events to produce a relevant and plausible tale of domestic and international intrigue. Additionally, Rodney writes political commentary on his own blog and for other nationally known blogs/websites. Rodney lives in Atlanta. His passions include hiking, photography, history, reading, and, of course, University of Georgia football.
  • Genann59

    It’s hard to say. Most you now go into politics do so for the power and money. Even those who go in with the intent of cleaning up the system often get sucked into the system and end up tainted by the wealth you can get through the power o f the office and the lobbyists willing to throw money and other favors your way if you scratch their backs. Term limits might work, perhaps having ethics investigations done outside of Congress, where no one wants to harm a fellow congressman who just got caught doing what they might get caught doing tomorrow. I am also not sure what it would take to “:clean up the swamp” but it sure is looking more and more like a cess pool than even a swamp. 

  • Vicky061

    I believe that term limits would remove the incentive, and, in fact, the necessity of accepting contributions from the lobby class. Under the present situation, seniority rules at. Committee level and campaign contributions are allowed. As seniority increases, the legislator is able to send more cash home to constituents. Whether Byrd droppings in West Virginia or the need to open an office in Johnstown PA to get a defense contract, the current system represents either a waste of resources or a tremendous inefficiency for the economy to overcome.

    Term limits would disempower lobbyists and spread wealth around due to the rotation of leadership. With term limits we would have to learn to live without Chuck Shumer and Harry Reid. Of course, bribery would remain in vogue.

  • Kathie Ampela

    There are always consequences and risks involved with any action, however, term limits offer the best hope for ending the “professional” ruling class and giving power back to the people (maybe).

  • Cws

    If the Dems didn’t have to worry about the next election (due to term limits) Obamacare would have passed by big numbers.

    • GlenFS

      Cws,
       I hadn’t thought of that!  You’re right.  It seems sometimes we want them to act in cowardice and self-preservation and other times we demand they stand up courageously for what we need (want?).   Which is called for depends on whether we agree with the issue at hand.

    • Penny

       I hadn’t thought of that either.  Really good point.  More food for thought.

  • JLaw

    if you balance the budget, you would decriminalize  the politics of Washington, take away the incentive to contrive debt obligations

  • Jeffreydan

      While there is some question whether the new person will be an improvement, there will be no question whatsoever that people like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid will be out. That’s enough for me.