Congress needs reform. With the country hobbling through the worst economy in 80 years and Europe threatening another global recession, America needs Congress at its best. But instead of statesmanslike representatives, our legislators have exacerbated the problem with partisan squabbles that have tarnished our AAA debt rating and sidelined qualified judges.
Some reformers argue the solution is to periodically shuffle Capitol Hill through term limits. While terms limits would change the makeup of Congress, it would also insulate elected officials from voters and wreak havoc on our democracy.
Term limits separate representatives from their voters. When a politician can’t run for office anymore, voters lose their leverage. As obnoxious as pandering politicians are, courting public opinion is the essence of representative democracy and the primary way for citizens to have a say in Washington.
What would happen if Senators could only serve one term? If this were made law, then a Senator would only need to curry public opinion until elected. After that, they would be free from all political constraints. If they can’t run for another term, then what’s the use in seeking public support?
It would be nice if politicians would govern for the common good, but alas they’re human. The Founders were skeptical of human behavior, instituting the vote as a check against bad governance. If men were angels, they wouldn’t need government; if politicians were angels, we wouldn’t need democracy.
If term limits were established, politicians’ true character would come to the forefront. Subtracting the need to continually campaign, idealists could stay true to their principles without compromising. However, much of last August’s debt negotiation debacle can be ascribed to hyper-partisan idealists who wouldn’t compromise on their principles for the good of the country.
Idealists gone wild could precipitate more of the gridlock that we’ve seen increasingly more of over the last two years, but idealism may be the lesser of two evils caused by term limits. Calculating and cynical politicians looking to hit the ground running when they leave office could prove a greater threat to our democracy.
Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) boasts that term limits will “break long-lasting ties to special interests and lobbyists,” but he’s dead wrong. Term limits would open the revolving door between the Hill and lobbyists on K Street. Not only would term limits create more “unemployed” politicians looking for lucrative jobs inside the beltway after office, but without political constraints, those same politicians would be more likely to give sweetheart deals to potential employers in anticipation of leaving office, diluting the voters’ say in Washington.
Although term limits goals to create citizen politicians dedicated to the common good are admirable, the imposition of term limits would disrupt the democratic process. Our great American system has survived for over 200 years, in part because the people have reigned in the government when it strays too far from good governance. Term limits would hamper the voice of the people and prove fertile ground for special interests and partisan bickering, all at the expense of our nation.
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