Term limits?

I’m opposed to term limits.  I mention this because jj made a spirited and persuasive argument in favor of limits in a comment to a recent thread.  I’m opposed on both practical and philosophical grounds.

As a practical matter, you don’t want an amateur deploying troops in Afganistan.  You don’t want an amateur building a bridge in Brooklyn.  You don’t want an amateur running a hospital in Houston.  And you don’t want a bunch of amateurs writing a multi-trillion dollar a year budget.  Amateurs in Congress would likely be almost completely beholden to the professionals — the career lobbiests for special interests, career staffers and career bureaucrats.  By the time the amateurs had things figured out they’d be replaced with a new crop of amateurs.  Not a way to run the world’s largest entity.  I can tell you we’ve had term limits in California for over 20 years and the governance of the state has gotten progressively worse all that time.  Term limits do not help; they make matters worse.  California is living proof of it.

As a philosophical matter, I’m also opposed.  As best I could make out, jj seemed to be saying that our elected officials either started out corrupt or were corrupted by power so that their only thought was to do whatever it took to stay in power.  Term limits would prevent that thought from taking seed, by making it impossible for them to stay in power no matter what they did.  JJ also seems to be saying that our voters are too stupid to vote out corrupted officials.  Why?  JJ focuses on pork barrel projects, but voters like those projects when they are for the voters’ district.  That’s the whole point of the projects, and it is not going to change with term limits.  In fact, if you have a limited time to pass such projects, you will just work extra hard to be remembered fondly as the one who brought home the bacon, before you are replaced by the next novice who will repeat the cycle.

Anyway, the whole notion that the poeple will inevitably elect and continue to re-elect the “wrong” type of representative and we must save them from themselves by imposing term limits is profoundly undemocratic.  People should be allowed to vote for the representatives they wish and, if they continue to vote for crooks, they get what they deserve.  Imposition of term limits is a gimmic, nothing more, designed to limit the voters’ choices.  Your thoughts?

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  • Navy Bob

    You absolutely correct. The only thing term limits does is to give more power to staff.  I once served on a governmental commission and it was not until I had 5-6 years on it that I could consistently outwit staff and get my way, not theirs.  They were always trying to do an end run around the board members because “they knew better”.  

  • LaChonky

    I’m not arguing for or against term limits, as in some situations they make sense (i.e. president) but in others it seems to be an easy out vs. holding representatives accountable. However, at some point, everyone is an amateur (Marco Rubio & Rand Paul). They could have amassed knowledge, skills, and abilities in positions other than as an elected official. 

    I believe a person doesn’t need extensive political experience in order to be an excellent representative in Congress whose primary job function should be representing the will of the (majority of the) people. I think it can be said that there are those in Congress who have worsened as their years of service increased and they amassed more power with which to push certain agendas (i.e. Pelosi, Reid).

    I think it comes down to a person’s character, whether or not they’re able to stand up and truly represent we the people. The majority of our representatives seem to be more selfish than self-giving – the whole idea of representation and being a public servant is lost in the quest for reelection.

    At any rate, I mostly wanted to point out that all the founding fathers of our country were ‘amateurs’. Despite this, they drafted together some pretty amazing documents/laws that have lasted for centuries. 

  • jj

    That’s exactly the point – Jefferson, Adams, Hancock, Franklin, Sherman, Rodney – they did want regular folks, not professional politicians – whatever the hell a “professional politician” might be.  Somebody who can’t get a real job, I guess.  They recognized the difference between politics and real life.  They had no problem with regular folks.  Only about 40% of the guys who signed the Declaration were involved in the Constitution – everybody thinks it was all the same people, no, it wasn’t.  Most of the guys from the Declaration congress were not part of the Constitution congress, they’d done their bit.  They went home.  They were finished playing politician.
    Of course voters like projects that benefit them – they’re not completely stupid!  Who the hell doesn’t like stuff that benefits him?  The people will inevitably re-elect whoever panders to them best – obviously.  Is the best panderer the best person to run anything?  I don’t know, you have to decide that for yourself.  But is that what the country’s about?  Does the federal government exist to pander?  Was my congressthing placed on earth to fill my mouth – and everybody else’s in the district – like a mother bird?  In return for which he/she/it expects us to endlessly re-elect them?  is that how it works? Or are they supposed to be part of something perhaps a bit larger?  If I didn’t say it plainly enough I’ll try it plainer: yes, their only thought is to do whatever it takes to stay in power.  First thought in the morning, last thought at night.  Schumer, an entirely repellent human being (I know him, you don’t – trust me) speaks quite proudly of how he first ran for office, in school, when young.  Then he did it again in college.  Then he did it some more in law school.  That is, in short, all he has ever done in his entire life: run for office.  What does he know how to do?  What does he know how to administer, or run?  What has he ever experienced?  How does he relate to anybody?  What does he have of value to bring to the table that anybody first elected to office tomorrow wouldn’t have?  (Except that the guy elected tomorrow would probably have managed to hold down at least one actual, real-world job in a lifetime.)  Schumer never has.  He even went to law school with the express purpose of being a politician, not a lawyer. 
    And allow me to point out the obvious: if it’s okay for the guy at the top of the pyramid to be what you would refer to, I suppose, as an “amateur,” a new one every four to eight years, than forgive me for supposing the eventual cessation of the continued presence of Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, and Nancy Pelosi is probably something the commonweal could survive.  Probably even California could survive it.  And if it’s undemocratic to remove congressmen – why is it somehow magically democratic to require presidents to go?  Admittedly, we get some bozos in the white house now and then, but not that often.  The current situation is an exception.
    The whole point of the way this country was established was to be run by common men.  Average people.  We had some exceptional folks right at the beginning – though they did not consider themselves exceptional – but most of the Continental Congress was pretty regular guys.  Can you, off the top of your head, name more than about half a dozen of them?  Probably not, unless you’re a scholar on the subject – and that was because they mostly went through life pretty anonymously and quietly, like any other average guy.  “Average guy” – that was the point.  That was the design.
    And I’ll also add, if the whole thing has gotten so complicated it’s somehow beyond the scope or ability of average guys (come on – I have dogs smarter than Sheila Jackson Lee, Maxine Waters, Nancy Pelosi, Brney Fwank, or John Conyers), then it’s time to tear it the hell down and start again.  If the apparatus has become so Byzantine as to be beyond the scope of. fore example, anyone who comments here, then it’s time to dismantle it right now.  Because that isn’t what the guys who put it all together had in mind, either.

  • http://furtheradventuresofindigored.blogspot.com/ Indigo Red

    Term limits is the voters way of abdicating power to the corrupt who turn public service into a game of musical chairs, finally retiring with multiple pensions. Term limiting in California has worked out great for the elected, not so great for the electors.

  • http://photoncourier.blogspot.com David Foster

    Professional politicians may not be “amateurs” when it comes to the legislative *process*; however, they are very much amateurs when it comes to the *substance* of legislation. Few of them know anything about energy. Not many of them have ever run a manufacturing or retailing business, or even held supervisory responsibility in one. There are hardly any who have the remotest grasp of science or engineering. How many of them have ever served in the military, or been a cop or a nurse, or a long-distance trucker?

    Most of them are of course lawyers; yet their assumed expertise in this field does not even result in laws that are coherently structured and drafted, as witness the health-care bill. 

  • Libby

    I’m a little leery of term limits as well, but I’d be up for other changes that prevent our Congressmen from becoming more representative of DC than their home state, such as:
    * Mandating that they spend a certain number of days in their home state
    * Having each state purchase DC-area housing for their sitting representatives, so that they don’t invest in the local real estate, invest in DC lifestyle, etc. Also, this would mean that their families don’t  move out and become involved in government-related businesses.
    * Rules about the types of jobs they can take after leaving office (Instapundit advocates taxing all former federal employees at a higher rate after they leave their job to work for the organizations in which they were just overseeing)
    Any other ideas?
    And Navy Bob, isn’t that what’s happened at the Dept. of State? It doesn’t matter who’s in charge, they just keep chugging along with their own agenda.

  • kali

    As Navy Bob reminds us, Yes Minister was really a documentary . . .


    Any other ideas?
    Glad you asked, Libby.
    *Salaries and perks are reduced by 10% annually after first term in office (this should keep them from getting too comfortable in office).
    *Ten year wait to transfer from politician to lobbyist or the other way around.
    It’s too early in the morning on a short night’s sleep to add more.

  • http://ruminationsroom.wordpress.com Don Quixote

    JJ, thanks for your response.  The founding fathers were dealing with a much different animal.  In particular, they were not battling against an entrenched bureaucracy, and thousands of lobbiests and staffers who know far more about any given topic than the legislators do.  They also didn’t have a multi-trillion dollar budget to craft.  Good luck with the tearing it all down and starting over thing.  The world is a very different place than it was over 200 years ago and there is no going back.

    By the way, if the goal is to elect legislators who don’t worry about re-election, term limits are the worst possible solution.  By the time representatives have been re-elected long enough to bump up against term limits, they usually have proven themselves to their voters and are unlikely to be defeated in election.  My own rep, Fortney “Pete” Stark, could run over a grandmother in broad daylight at the corner of Mowry Avenue and Fremont Blvd. and he’d still get 70% of the vote.  It seems to me that the whole point of term limits is to force out of office those who don’t have to worry about re-election (like, for example, the people you named).  You want to force them out with term limits because you know the democratic process (you know, the voters) would re-elect them because most voters in their districts want them.  This is fundamentally undemocratic and just plain wrong.  We should not take that choice away from voters just because we are unhappy about who they vote for. 

    Finally, you only name liberals you want to get rid of with term limits.  The limits of course, would get rid of people you want to keep every bit as much as those you want to get rid of. 

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    I don’t believe term limits will be enough. The corruption goes too deep. It would have to be a complete system overhaul at this time.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

      The world is a very different place than it was over 200 years ago and there is no going back.

    A revolution isn’t going back, neither is a reform. That’s such an erroneous assumption to make, DQ, I’m surprised you keep making it. 

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    This is fundamentally undemocratic and just plain wrong.  We should not take that choice away from voters just because we are unhappy about who they vote for. 

    So now we should elect Chavez Clinton and FDR President for Life Now?


  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    As a practical matter, you don’t want an amateur deploying troops in Afganistan. 

    Too late. 

  • http://ruminationsroom.wordpress.com Don Quixote

    Y-man, I was responding to jj’s comment:  “And I’ll also add, if the whole thing has gotten so complicated it’s somehow beyond the scope or ability of average guys (come on – I have dogs smarter than Sheila Jackson Lee, Maxine Waters, Nancy Pelosi, Brney Fwank, or John Conyers), then it’s time to tear it the hell down and start again.”  Particularly in the context of his entire comment, with his references to the founding fathers, the Continental Congress and the like, “start again” sounded suspiciously like going back and not all all like reform. 

  • jj

    They weren’t dealing with a different animal, just a different time.  What they had to confront at the time was no less daunting, and was probably eleven times as dangerous, given that the entrenched bureaucracy they faced had planted a couple of armies around, ready to kill them if it could catch them.
    Yeah, I figured that out.  I’m a little dense, so it took me a while.  Pardon me all to hell.  Those I mentioned may also take Peter King, John McCain, Susan Collins, Michelle Bachman, Lindsay Graham, Marco Rubio, John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, and both Pauls with them.  Who I like and dislike isn’t the point, and I’m surprised you’d suppose I’m puerile enough to suppose it was about me.  Or thick enough not to have noticed that when I propose it to mean “everybody” I’d somehow think it doesn’t mean everybody.
    The goal is to elect representatives who function in the interests of the country rather than themselves.  “My voters will hate me for closing down this military base in my district, but we really, truly, don’t need it – so it goes.”  Worrying or not worrying about re-election is not the goal.  The goal is to get them worrying about the job, and the nation.  My congressman is not a member of the congress of Washington state, he’s a member of the US congress.  After thirty years, it’s time he acted like it. 

  • http://ruminationsroom.wordpress.com Don Quixote

    Sorry, jj, I didn’t mean that to come off as an insult.  I just was struck by the fact that all of the examples you gave were people you don’t like.

    Sure, representatives should act like they represent the whole country, but terms limits will do nothing to make them more likely to do so.  They certainly haven’t in California.  Given the fact that representatives are locally elected, the only representatives likely to be statemanlike enough to act in the interests of the country, even if those are against the interests of the district, are those who are in safe seats (either because their district is drawn that way or because the voters actually like them and keep re-electing them by large margins) and don’t have to worry about what the folks back home think.   

    Essentially, I’m saying that besides being profounding undemocratic (which is enough by itself to sink it in my eyes), your “solution” will not accomplish your goal.

  • Ocean Guy

    Like Navy Bob I’ve seen the dangers of powerful staffers and civil servants.  Without a check on their growth term limits for elected officials would magnify that problem. Term Limits are simply a band-aid for the broken arm.  The problems jj laments are eased only through limiting the size and scope of government.  Replacing elected officials on an accellerated time schedule may make some feel good, but having those term limited officials step out of elected positions and into civil service and staff positions just shifts the real base of power to the unelected. 

    The intentions behind term limits may be pure, but the consequences would be ugly. 

    Limit the size of government, not the length of terms.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    I would see it as restarting, not going back to a past state.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    Democracy is not all that important to me. It’s only one method to govern a people and in 200 years, it’s about time people figured out there are better ways to do things than just one way in a nation.

     Becoming too attached to democracy is about the same thing as being too attached to loyalty to the monarchy. If the monarchy is strong and able to guarantee peace and prosperity, that’s one thing. But when it can’t, then it may be time to look at something else.


  • Duchess of Austin

    Yamarsakar has a point.  The left says that our representative democracy is broken.  They broke it, so they know.
    They are also presenting the alternative….socialism/communism/fascism…what you call it is semantic and irrelevant.  The outcome is the same.
    It’s up to the right to pound the failed policies of the left and they need to do it in language that anybody, (even liberals) can understand it. 
    The republican candidate for President has to be aggressive enough to take it to Obama directly and just hammer, hammer, hammer, regardless of what the media does.  The more the failures of the president are pointed out publicly, some of it will get through the media filter.  It *has* to.
    IMO, Mitt Romney is the media pick for the republican nomination because he is saddled with a few of the same failed policies as Obama (and to date, he remains unapologetic about it) which would neutralize the worst of the administration failures because he would be unable to point that out, over and over, because he would look pretty stupid.
    Would that we had a real statesman who is interested in running for President.  Rick Perry looks the best to me of the present field.  I love Herman Cain but the truth is, as much as I like him, he has made some pretty big mistakes lately and I’m not sure he will have enough momentum to secure the nomination and I’m hoping he might change his mind about accepting a VP slot.  I sure hope so.
    Right now I’m not all that enthused about the present list of republican hopefuls.  Maybe it will change.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    Athens had a democracy. It broke. The Founding Fathers could only cook up a confederancy based upon some democratic principles but not much of it. It broke too. Then it broke again in the US Civil War.

    Lots of things are changing people, and NONE of them ever went back to the past afterwards. 

  • http://phillips.blog.com phillips1938

    California is now returning to non-partisan elections. Similar to what California had from 1914 to 1960 when it was the leading state government in the country. We’ll see how this works over the next 10 years.
    There is also an approach that makes sense which is random selection of legislators for three-year terms. That would be true representation and something much closer to the Greek form that lasted 200 years until destroyed by war.

  • jj

    Sure, representatives should act like they represent the whole country, but terms limits will do nothing to make them more likely to do so.   What they’ll do is render us much less liable to them.  We don’t have to care, because they’ll shortly be gone.  We don’t have to listen to their line of BS – and they don’t have to spend time with consultants and image-men to create a line of BS, because they’ll shortly be gone.  That’s the point.
    And, btw, just for your eddification – “people I don’t like?”  Do you happen to know anyone in either house of the congress I do – more than momentarily – like?  If so I wish you’d tell me.  As of even date, I can’t think of one, myself.

    You’ve mentioned it more than once, so now explain: why is it “profoundly undemocratic” to term limit congressmen, but it evidently is not, in your eyes, to term-limit presidents?

  • http://ruminationsroom.wordpress.com Don Quixote

    I’m opposed to term limits for Presidents, too, jj.  All term limits are undemocratic.  They all tell the voter, you can’t vote for this otherwise qualified person, even if you want to.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    So this leaves us with the reality, not the theory, of a president for Life Roosevelt if he had lived through WWII for some odd decades more.

    And DQ thinks this is good because….? 

  • http://ruminationsroom.wordpress.com Don Quixote

    Becuase if he continued to be re-elected, it would mean the majority of the people wanted him as their president.  It is good that the majority of people have the government they want to have, rather than one limited by gimmics.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    The Constitution doesn’t care what people want, however. The whole point of a Constitution is to tell people “no, you can’t have what you want”, which is often something a democracy tends to go berserk at, voting in stuff that people just want.

    So if you think that’s undemocratic, it’s also Constitutional.

     The Constitution ensures that people get the government need, and not the government they “want” because people tend to want goodies.

  • Danny Lemieux

    Don Q re FDR: Becuase if he continued to be re-elected, it would mean the majority of the people wanted him as their president.  It is good that the majority of people have the government they want to have, rather than one limited by gimmics.

    I humbly suggest that one reason for term limits is to keep any individual from accruing power. The longer one is in office, the more time they have to build a machinery that virtually assures their hold on power. FDR,  to cite Don Q’s example,  tried to stack the Supreme Court. He failed once, but with another term, he might have succeeded. 

    I propose this based on my experience living in Crook County, IL (Chicagoland), whereby the Daley machine build a campaign of intimidation and bought votes through union and other organization payoffs that guaranteed his reelection. Chicago no longer has a democratic process – it goes through the motions, of course, but Chicago’s mayors aren’t elected, they are anointed. It is a one-party state.

    I would hate to see this happen on a national scale.