Monday, August 6, 2007

The Best Government Money Can Buy 4

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Great men are almost always bad men."[1]

My final suggestion for reforming our democracy is to place term limits on our elected offices. I do not believe that the Founding Fathers of this country believed that an elected office should be a lifetime career. As the quote states, power is a very corrupting influence and as our elected officials become more powerful many of their moral compasses become askew. The Founding Fathers debated term limits and considered adding them to the Constitution, but decided against it because it would limit the choices of the people. One must remember though that they would have never considered the idea that someone would want to be a lifetime politician. Why?

Times have changed since those days; entrenched incumbency has not made our government freer or more responsive. In fact it has had the opposite effect, due to the rules for elections being tilted towards incumbency political power has been retained in the hands of the few. Just look at the last two decades of Presidential politics in America: Bush, Clinton, Bush, & Clinton? The only reason we don’t have another Bush in the wings is because he married a Hispanic. Politics is not a family business to be handed down from parent to child, public service should be something we do for a limited period of time and then move on. The framers believe that politics would be a part-time job made up of citizen legislators, not the career politicians we have today.

John Adams put it well when he said: Representatives are "like bubbles on the sea of matter ... they rise, they break and to that sea return. This will teach the great political virtues of humility patience and moderation, without which every man in power becomes a ravenous beast of prey."[2]

Today we have more than a 90% reelection rate for incumbents, this lack of turnover continues to stagnate our democratic process. With such a low turnover rate many politicians have become complacent and out of touch with their constituents. This in turn has led to more partisanship and entrenchment of political views of elected officials. Besides if you can’t get done what you need to get done in two terms then you’re lousy and probably need to find another job anyway; maybe EPA, FEMA, or one of those cushy jobs.

Entrenched incumbency is bad for the body politic in a number of ways. Today short of a war or a corruption scandal it is next to impossible to remove an incumbent. Incumbents have their whole term to fundraise so they come into the election cycle with usually more money that their challengers. Incumbents usually have the backing of their party leaders, so they have the whole political machinery behind them. Because incumbents are in office they are able to do redistricting when the time comes, so they can gerrymander districts to ensure their incumbency. Finally, there is the advantage of pork barrel spending that comes with incumbency; the incumbent can bring home the bacon to his/her district.

Institute a two term limit for all elected offices.

For all the reasons stated above, I believe we need to limit all office holders to two terms. Because the Congress only gets two years we should increase their terms to four years and reduce the Senate to four years. This would allow us to only have to vote every four years, except for some special initiative and would put everyone on the same election cycle.

Term limits would help prevent the career politicians from staying in office forever. In just my lifetime I can think of many politicians that lasted long past their usefulness and allowed many others that were outside of the mainstream to continue to wield power (ie. Jesse Helms, Strom Thurman, etc.). Term limits would allow citizen legislators to return to politics, instead of politicians looking for careers, they would know they had two terms to accomplish their goals maximum. Democracy’s need new fresh ideas and blood to remain vibrant and responsive, this can only happen when there is a rotational system in place. Many current incumbents have no fear of being ousted so they no longer represent the people who elected them; instead they represent those who fill their campaign coffers. This is how despite an overall majority of Americans disagreeing with a policy, that policy does not change.

Term limits would allow elected officials to vote on principle and not just to prolong their careers. Term limits will not stop some politicians from peddling their votes, but it would lessen the effect. Unlike today where there are so many votes up for sell, we couldn’t get all the clowns out in any election. Term limits would allow our representatives to be more representative of the will of the people. Term limits will also help to remove corrupt politicians from other districts. There are many politicians that have been caught red-handed and yet they continue to be re-elected, term limits will force voters in those districts to elect someone else and clean up the political system at the same time.

As I stated at the beginning none of these suggestions are cure-alls for what ails the American democracy, but they would go a long way to restoring faith and trust in a system that sorely needs it. Many of the messes we find ourselves in today could have been avoided by implementing these three simple suggestions.

"that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain--that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom--and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." – Abraham Lincoln

[1] Lord Acton


No comments:

HTML stat tracker