Friday, January 13, 2006

No Term Limits, George

My record with George Will is surprisingly spotty: I'd expect to disagree with everything he says, but once in a while he sounds rational. Today's column, for instance, is mostly pretty good, as he rips into the Republicans for becoming hooked on large government and selling out to lobbyists. I particularly like his suggestion that the symbol of the Republican Party should be the stegosaurus, not the dignified elephant...

I part company with him, though, on his suggested cure for the rent-seeking which he sees as the national pastime: "bending public power for private advantage." He feels the only solution for this is Congressional term limits; which even he agrees will never happen because Congress would have to pass it...

Having now lived through far too many years of term limits in California, I agree with Maximum Bob (in the Fanatical Apathy thread "Jack and me"): (legislators) are forced to leave just as they start to figure out where the rest rooms are. Term limits, if anything, give the lobbyists more power, because only they have been around long enough to know what the rules are. In fact, they make the rules.

The only short term solution to corruption in politics is publicly financed elections; it seems to be working pretty well in Arizona and one or two other states. The long term solution, of course, is to re-educate the population at large in civics, how democracy works, and the general concept of public service; but that will take generations. It might also require repealing No Child Left Behind, since I don't believe any of these subjects is on the required standard tests...


  1. Anonymous11:23 AM

    Term limits are a really bad idea, an affront to voting, an assault on institutional memory, a barrier to the evolution of statespersons in government, and ultimately suggest that American electoral democracy doesn't work.

    Term limits reinforce the notion that the hoi polloi cannot be trusted, which I think is not true of a hoi polloi possessed of appropriately comprehensive, reliably accurate information. It is true of a lazy, uninformed, narrowly ideologically driven electorate, but the alternatives to the freedom to elect whomever we want for however long we want are not cures, but rather worse alternatives.

    A perfect example, for me, is the presence of Robert Byrd in the United States Senate. This man is an institutional treasure, and a fearless on at that. And he keeps getting re-elected by voters in a fundamentalist state, for whatever reason.


  2. Anonymous5:54 PM

    David, the reasons that the great statesman from West Virginia keeps getting re-elected are:
    1: he's ex-Klan and
    2: P-O-R-K. The boy really brings home the bacon.

    But on the matter of term limits, did you notice how the Gingrich Revolution came in on the "Contract on America" and term limits and after they were swept into power in 1994, term limits were quietly stuffed into a trunk and never mentioned again.

  3. David, I couldn't agree with you more. I voted against term limits here and have been muttering, "I told you so" to myself ever since.

    Cooper, I'd forgotten that the Newtster was originally pushing term limits until you reminded me. Sigh.

  4. Anonymous2:20 PM


    I agree with #2. I'm not so sure #1 is a factor any more.

    Personal aside: I was stunned when I learned my closest childhood friend's father was a member. He was the opposite of the murderous Klansmen, and highly respected and trusted by the black picking crews he managed for Lake Charm Fruit Company. As the line goes in "The Loveliest Afternoon of the Year," "...the strangeness we come from."

    Some guy named Phil Handy carried the "Eight is Enough" banner for Gingrich in Central Florida - I remember it nauseatingly well.


  5. Yes, David, isn't it astounding, the things we learn about the people we knew when we were children? I didn't discover that my father was a racist (well, he was raised in Missouri) until I was in high school. The city where I grew up had one of those realtors' compacts, not to sell houses to blacks, and I signed an open housing petition that the Methodist minister was sending around. Suddenly found myself up against an opinion I didn't know Dad had. Mind you, this was in California, too; this wasn't the deep South. I still remember the incident.

    The bizarre thing about it was, on a person-to-person level, Dad was the kindest, most helpful and neighborly person you could imagine. I guess it was because we didn't have any black neighbors.

    It sounds like your friend's father - and maybe Senator Byrd, too - joined the Klan the way some men join the Lions, or the Elks: it was the local fraternal organization... With the Klan as with all other large groups, there were probably members who never did a thing. Chalk it up on the list of things we'll never really know.

  6. Anonymous9:31 AM

    How 'bout this. When a person gets into office, we take all their personal wealth and put it in the national treasury. If the economy does well, they make money. If the deficit goes up, they lose money. Would that help with corruption? Think anyone would go for it? Think anyone would still run for office? :-)


  7. Stephen, on those terms, would YOU run for office?? Just asking.

  8. {Sharon here, from Fanatical Apathy Comments] Hedera, I find it amusing in the extreme that I have renounced software engineering to become a librarian, while you started your carer as a librarian and are now a software engineer. There's a lesson here somewhere. ;-)

    I do remember that term limits was one of the planks of the Gingrich Revolution. Of course, that was back before they had a majority in both houses of Congress. It's been a very long time since the topic has been mentioned on a national level.

    The only term limit that I am very very grateful for is the one that limits the POTUS to two 4-year terms. Of course, that rule is enbodied in a mere Constitutional amendment, and we know how much deference the current White House gives to those.

  9. Anonymous6:35 AM


    If everyone else had the same deal, absolutely. I have thought about it anyway but don't think anyone want to hear about reality. Seems to me most voters want to hear that we can cut taxes, raise spending and if we incure a huge debt, well, it can still work that out later. I don't think I would get elected on a "duh, you can't earn less and spend more" fiscal policy.

  10. Starstuff/Sharon, I think the only conclusion you can draw is that there's no accounting for tastes! I actually enjoyed library work (it took me 17 years to burn out), I just didn't enjoy the pay.

    If you think back, you may remember that the 2 term limit for POTUS was pushed through after WWII and I believe was actually called the Roosevelt amendment: FDR was elected 4 times (one of them, to be sure, because the country really was at war, but he won the 1940 election without that, although the war in Europe was in progress then) and the Republicans, among other people, didn't want to risk 16 years of another Democrat. Just remember that if you hear them start muttering about changing the Constitution to let Dubya have a third term...

    What drives me nuts about the current Repubs (well, one of the things) is that they seem to have forgotten the old maxim, "What goes around, comes around"; or, "The people you misuse on the way up / You might meet up / On the way back down..." Now that they are in power they want all restraints removed on the assumption they will stay in power forever. They won't, of course; the only question is how long it takes the public to decide that they like the results better when POTUS and Congress belong to different parties.

  11. Anonymous8:16 AM

    I think, but am not positive, that FDR himself first suggested presidential term limits because he feared the possibility of a quasi-dictatorship. The Republicans, I think, were enthusiastic about the idea as part of the onset of their anti-everything FDR agenda, which has been rolling along for what now, 65 years? It gained new expression in 2001 with anti-everything WJC.

    Ironically, the Republicans are crafting a quasi-dictatorship regardless of term limits, so it is my judgment that term limits serve no constructive or democratic purpose in any instance.

    An aside - there is no actual threat to the system of checks and balances if the Democrats control both the presidency and the congress. I say this for two reasons. The Democratic party is not a machine with a narrow agenda and abject subservience to elite interests, and, as Will Rogers observed, it is not even an organized party. The checks and balances within Democratic ranks, along with our respect for the Constitution and our general disaffection with authoritarianism, make us at least as safe as having the presidency and the congress in the hands of different parties. About the only branch it is safe to have in the hands of Republicans is the senate, so long as it is a narrow majority. But I think we are better off with even the senate in the hands of Democrats, just not by a wide margin (like 52-48 or thereabouts).

    And a Republican president has clearly become a bad idea, period, including John McCain, who believes Bush is doing a terrific job in the WOT, and who resolutely preferred Bush over Kerry, helping insure Iraq would descend into an unconscionable nightmare. Waiting in the wings, of course, is perhaps the slickest Republican of all, Her Oiliness Condi Rice.

    Reasonable moderates in the Republican party are powerless, marginalized cowards, far more spineless than any Democrats (I'm thinking Colin Powell as the preeminent example).