I’ve been slammed at work this week with preparing for a software demo next week, so my ability to gather news worth discussing has been limited. That makes today as good a day as any to discuss something that I’ve thought about occasionally: term limits for Congress. I’ve always been against them because a method of term limits (regular elections) already exists. If you don’t like your elected representatives, vote against them. If your opinion is the minority, work to convince others. Term limits seems like the lazy way out.
I’m not immune to reconsidering my position, though. Career politicians are not generally helpful to the nation. That’s an imperfect generalization, but one that suffices close enough to accuracy most of the time. There should be relatively regular turnover. Since it’s not happening through the established, more effective method, perhaps I should reconsider.
The most common theme I’ve heard suggesting that we revisit term limits revolves around some variation of “it’ll limit the damage they can do.” This is flawed for two reasons, I believe. First, and most obvious, if we’re trying to limit the damage, the system is flawed, not the lack of term limits. Whatever it is that lets Congress flout the rules and reward itself at the public’s expense should be remedied. This is where elections should come in, but voters show a great propensity to believe that their representative is the good one. (To be fair, there are other, incumbent favoring factors.) Let Congress know that it can’t spend with abandon. Let it know that violating the Constitution will not be tolerated. These are the heart of the real issue.
Second, and more important, if we’re trying to limit corruption and influence-peddling, we must remember that unintended consequences can and will occur. Some of these might be positives, but if politicians are moral defectives, as Kip states, is it unreasonable to believe that term limits will only serve to condense their negative behavior into a shorter period of time?
I’ve seen nothing from most politicians to believe that they won’t sell out America to the highest bidder when they want to get re-elected. When they can’t get re-elected because of term limits, I suspect they’ll properly plan ahead to make sure they set themselves individually by rewarding whoever can most help them when they return to the private sector. We could debate whether or not this shift in behavioral time frame would cause more or less harm, and that would be interesting. I tend to accept Kip’s thesis, so I don’t think it’s debatable that a shift would occur.
Self-interest will still drive too many politicians if we implement term limits. Politicians won’t be better at dark art, just quicker. I remain unconvinced that term limits will solve the real problem. We’d be better suited going after the root than the symptom.