Some people consider baseball to be a slow game. A hitter can stay in the batters box indefinitely if he keeps fouling off the ball. There is theoretically no limit to how many pitches he can use up until he either gets on base or gets out, but the current record is 20 pitches for a single at bat. The pitchers end up getting frustrated and tired and the fans do too. What would happen if players only had two swings in which to hit the ball? Not two strikes–just two swings. I think they would probably try and make them as productive as possible. If nothing else, the game would move along quite a bit faster. What does this have to do with politics? Maybe nothing or maybe everything.
From what I’ve read, most American voters now support the concept of term limits for elected office (usually 75-80% in polls), but it is very difficult to get legislators to legislate themselves out of a job. Even New Yorkers favor re-imposing term limits after Mayor Michael Bloomberg managed to get the city council to extend the term limit from two to three years in spite of two voter referendums in 2008. Why should we wait for legislators to approve term limits? We the people can decide if we want term limits and we don’t need a law to make it happen. If enough candidates for public office stand up and pledge to hold themselves to term limits, the pressure will build until it becomes common practice, the expected norm, a defacto standard, or whatever else you might call it. So, I’m asking all candidates for public office to take a pledge to voluntarily limit themselves to 1-2 terms in office. For the US Senate, I would say 6 years (1 term) is enough. For the House of Representatives, 4 years (2 terms) sounds like enough. After that, they have to agree to take the same amount of time (1-2 terms) off before running again.
Why do I support term limits?
During the first 150 years of this country’s history, term limits were unnecessary. Turnover in the U.S. House of Representatives was routinely over 50 percent and short terms kept representatives relatively responsive to the public. Over the last few decades we have experienced reelection rates averaging over 90 percent (including voluntary retirements), creating a class of career politicians who have insulated themselves from the public will and who have grown less and less representative of the people and more dependent on special interests who offer fringe benefits and campaign financing.
This is often blamed on the high cost of running a campaign effective enough to challenge an incumbent’s name recognition. Ultimately, however, it is the fault of American voters, most of whom are too unmotivated to learn enough about the candidates to make an informed decision or even to vote at all. This is why educating our kids to understand American history and to be good citizens is so important. However, since we can’t quickly or easily change the knowledge and behavior of voters, we can at least try and level the playing field by making it easier for someone new to run for office. Term limits will help to discourage people from becoming “career politicians” and make it easier for ordinary private citizens to run for office. It isn’t a perfect solution, and does not guarantee better results, but I think it is better than what we have now.
To discuss more about the pros and cons of term limits, I would like to debate three distinguished Americans who have opposed term limits. Fortunately, I have found a way to travel backwards through time to make this possible.
Alexander Hamilton (The Federalist, #72):
“Nothing appears more plausible at first sight, nor more ill-founded upon close inspection [than term limits]…. One ill effect of the exclusion would be a diminution of the inducements to good behavior. There are few men who would not feel much less zeal in the discharge of a duty when they were conscious that the advantage of the station with which it was connected must be relinquished at a determinate period, than when they were permitted to entertain a hope of obtaining, by meriting, a continuance of them.”
Rebuttal by Earth Visitor:
“Mr. Hamilton: While I agree that inducements to good behavior are necessary and that term limits do not help to induce one to better serve the public, the majority of inducements today come from special interests, who offer money, travel, and other perks as well as campaign support at election time. The inducements available today to serve the ordinary citizen are relatively negligible, so it is no wonder that most politicians feel little zeal in serving the needs of a powerless electorate. I would greatly prefer the service of a private citizen who has already earned high regard who knows that he has a limited amount of time in which to make a difference, than someone who knows he will be reelected year after year even if he commits a serious breach of ethics or ignores the wishes of a majority of the people he or she was elected to represent.”
James Madison (The Federalist, No. 53):
“A few of the members, as happens in all such assemblies, will possess superior talents; will, by frequent re-elections, become members of long standing; will be thoroughly masters of the public business, and perhaps not unwilling to avail themselves of those advantages. The greater the proportion of new members and the less the information of the bulk of the members, the more apt they will be to fall into the snares that may be laid for them.”
Rebuttal by Earth Visitor:
“Mr. Madison: You are correct in asserting that a few elected members will, by frequent re-election, become masters of the public business, but I would assert that in so doing, they have also become slaves to the special interests who toil daily to subvert the interests of the people to that of their own fortunes. These masters of public business have, in fact, become rulers over the people rather than guardians of their interests. The snares that endanger us today are those laid with the aid of these members of long standing, who have long been captured by special interests and now seek to increase their power by subverting and controlling the new and inexperienced members as well.”
John Adams (A Defence of the Constitutions of the United States of America):
“There is no right clearer, and few of more importance, than that the people should be at liberty to choose the ablest and best men, and that men of the greatest merit should exercise the most important employments; yet, upon the present [term limits] supposition, the people voluntarily resign this right, and shackle their own choice…. [T]hey must all return to private life, and be succeeded by another set, who have less wisdom, wealth, virtue, and less of the confidence and affection of the people.”
Rebuttal by Earth Visitor:
“Mr. Adams: The ability to choose the ablest and best men and women is, of course, of the utmost importance to the survival of democracy. Yet, the fact that a majority of the people now agree upon the need to voluntarily impose such a limit is a testament to the depths to which our elected officials have fallen in the public esteem. Are we to believe that the best and ablest men are almost always those who currently serve in office and that, should they return to private life, we would not find a single replacement of equal or greater caliber? Can you assert that those who spend most of their life holding public office, with no experience in business, the arts, medicine, or other walks of life, are truly wiser and more virtuous? I must submit that the confidence and affection of the people towards such officials is now dangerously low, but the people feel so powerless in effecting a change that they must resort to a voluntary infringement of their own right to choose. As we so wisely stated in our Declaration of Independence, whenever any form of government becomes destructive, it is still the right of the people to alter or abolish it and institute new government.”
Take the Pledge!
I’m asking that every candidate for public office make some kind of public written statement committing themselves to no more than 4-6 consecutive years (1-2 consecutive terms) in office. This can be on a blog, a web page, in their campaign literature, or anyplace else they care to publish the pledge. I’m also asking voters to stop voting for politicians that exceed the desired term of office. The very survival of our democracy as an effective form of government is at stake. Do I believe this will actually happen? No. Do I think it will work as intended? No, but it’s a start. To actually effect real change, we also need to reduce the power of elected officials to grant favors to special interests.