On the Futility of Term Limits.

There’s a big divide within the conservative/Republican/tea party world about term limits. I’ve seen signs at tea party rallies calling for term limits on Congressmen and I’ve talked to others about why term limits are the wrong choice in trying to control Congress. After hearing what people have to say about term limits, I’ve reached the conclusion that they are wholly unnecessary.

Those who support instituting term limits generally hold Congressmen like Barney Frank and the late Sen. Kennedy as examples of the perpetual incumbency allowed by our current system. They say that the presidency has been term limited, and that it should rightly follow that the Congress ought to also be limited in that fashion. These are good points and show failings inherent in our political system.

What those people forget is that the burden of ensuring good governance lies not on the heads of the governors but on those of the governed. We cannot rely on the mechanisms of government to save us from scheming politicians, or even ones who have simply outstayed their usefulness in Washington. To do so would go against the spirit of the Constitution, imbued in it by the Founders during its construction. A successful democracy depends on active participants both elected and electing.

We have faith in elections and respect their results because we know that they reflect the wishes of those who made the effort to voice their opinion. If the same people keep winning their seat we must only assume that it is because their constituents are satisfied with their performance. The only effective means to voice dissatisfaction is to vote the politician in question out of office. Term limits barricade the people from voicing their true opinions. What happens if, like in Rep. Ron Paul’s district, the people actually like their elected official? He has been reelected a number of times, but would have been forbidden to do so had he been subjected to term limits. In short, it is up to the people to elect a new representative if they believe the current one is not doing his job well enough. If no one is running against him, they must find and elect someone who will.

As a response to the argument about the presidential term limits, I can only implore people to remember that his term limit was imposed not by the Founders but as an amendment in the twentieth century. It was not in the original design of the Constitution and while it may suit the office of the President, it is not as easily applicable to Congress. A President is not directly elected by the people and it could therefore be argued that a term limit should be imposed to serve as a barrier to abuse of power. Congressmen of both houses are elected directly now, and it is in this way that we can ensure that the representatives will be voted out of office when the time comes.

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2 Responses to “On the Futility of Term Limits.”

  1. T Says:

    What about when people are not satisfied with their congressman’s performance, but vote via party allegiance? I see this strongly where I live where it seems that many people want to vote Republican, but know very little about the candidate.

    • alyxwi Says:

      In Frisco, which at last inquiry was part of one of the most conservative districts in the country, we vote entirely Republican. This election just past, there was not a single non-Republican elected. When the ballot boasted a R-D-L choice set, the Democrat usually got between eight and twenty percentage points and the Libertarian usually got around three, with the Republican taking the rest. When there was not a Democrat on the ballot, the Libertarian usually got about thirteen percent. From this, we can see that party ties are incredibly important in Frisco and Collin County in general.

      But if Sam Johnson, who has been reelected more times than I can count, were doing a bad job, the Frisco or Collin County voters would have mounted an effort to unseat him. Failing that, we can be sure that the Tea Parties or the Libertarian Party or the Democratic Party would have attempted to run a candidate against him. I’m not sure if you saw the ballot or if you’re even in his district, but Johnson ran unopposed.

      I know that there’s a problem with getting people to take the hour or so prior to visiting the voting booth to look over the candidates’ records. I hate when people say “Vote! It only takes fifteen minutes!” because it doesn’t. A responsible voter needs to sit down and see for whom they really want to vote, and getting people to do that instead of checking the straight-party box is difficult.

      I suppose the best answer I can give you is that there is a difference between a politician doing a horrible job and one who’s not doing a good job. One will be loathed by the voters and consequently unseated. The other one will keep his seat and live to fight another two (or six) years. There may be some truth in the saying that the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t. It might be better to keep the official who’s doing a moderate job or just not doing a great job than to have him forced out and have to elect one of two horrid candidates. You know me. I’m a fan of choice. I think that it’s always better for people to have a choice in all matters, especially those of governance, than to have rules imposed that limit choice.

      If, as in Frisco, the elected will always have an R next to his name, the effort must be directed at getting your candidate nominated on the Republican ticket. But this last election has shown that people as a whole can be counted on to get angry and vote out people they don’t like if those people are bad enough.

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