Monday, May 12, 2014

The Question Of Term Limits

     In this age of top-down, heavy-handed, over-reaching, crushingly-oppressive government, many have grasped desperately for some way to restore the liberty intended for this country by its founders. And while it can be said, as Thomas Paine wrote so many years ago, "These are the times that try men's souls," a solution to our modern governmental problems must be carefully considered. The wrong solution could indeed become a worse poison and not the healing salve that some may think it to be. So it might be with what some see as a panacea to limiting the power of the federal government by limiting the terms of those who serve in the congress.
     Term limits, as a way to limit the power, influence, and corruption of the federal government, is an idea that has been around for a long time. But the idea has gained momentum in recent decades as politicians in Washington have seen fit to outgrow the bounds of the Constitution. While I am sympathetic to those who support term limits for congressional members, it is that very constitution, and its framers intent, that make me unable to throw my support behind the idea.
     Primarily, the framers of the United States Constitution specifically did not limit the terms of those serving in congress, not as an oversight, but to purposely place more control in the hands of the American people. The founders of this country, and framers of its unique constitution, trusted the decision-making prowess of the people more than that of government. It was this trust placed in the populace by the framers that prevented them from limiting the choice of the individual citizen with a constitution that forbade them from exercising their full and unencumbered voting rights. Term limits would be such an encumbrance.
     In essence, those who support term limits are saying that the trust placed in the people by the Founders is no longer valid. That the average citizen can no longer be trusted to look beyond the benefits of incumbency and make a reasonable and rational choice when electing their congressional representatives. And if this is the case, then the very foundations of this great republic have been compromised to the extent that term limits, if implemented, would be analogous to attempting to extinguish a house fire with an eye dropper. Lest we forget that this great nation was built on the foundation that the people were more trustworthy than the government. Term limits are an admission that this is no longer apparent.
     In addition to the preceding argument given against term limits is the practicality of such a constitutional change ever seeing the light of day. Using normal means to change the Constitution in order to impose term limits would require two thirds of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and three quarters of all fifty state legislatures. Even if Republicants controlled both chambers of congress with the necessary majorities, they would never vote to limit their terms. If by some miracle term limits passed both chambers of congress, the states would never provide the three quarters majority needed to change the Constitution. Even with Republicant control of sixty percent of state legislatures, they would all have to vote in lockstep and obtain fifteen percent of the Democrat legislatures to vote with them.
     Asking state legislators to limit their opportunities for career advancement, the United States Congress being the goal for many, is like asking lawyers to voluntarily limited lawsuit awards to a hundred dollars. Even if congress is bypassed using a constitutional convention of the states for the expressed purpose of imposing term limits, the problem of achieving three fourths support in those legislatures is just a bridge too far. The energy wasted trying to achieve a constitutional amendment to limit terms for congress could be better spent on actual achievable goals. Besides, the wise and sagacious Framers gave to the people the ability to throw out the bath water of bad representation without also throwing out the baby of good representation. It is called the vote.

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