Bill Murchison

The term-limits movement that showed some leg in the '80s never got as far as it deserved to. It achieved some success at the state and local levels, but not in Washington, D.C., the apex of power, where secular power's ultimate custodians proved unwilling to renounce their prerogatives.

That attitude was of course prima facie proof of the need for constitutional or legislative limits to endless service. Yet the people who needed limiting had first to vote to limit themselves. You see the problem.

Nearly everyone has heard Lord Acton's axiom about power: It "tends to corrupt." Corrupt whom, though? The power-wielders alone? Just as corrupted can be the beneficiaries of the exercise of power.

The buying of votes through the bestowal of favors on voters might possibly but doesn't have to serve the interest of policy beneficial to liberty and moral order. New courthouses or bridges, in the Byrd-West Virginia manner, make gratitude more immediate and tangible than can some generalized sense of ease. As Senate Appropriations Committee chairman and dedicated legislative tactician, Byrd kept the bridges and federal buildings coming. At the expense of non-West Virginians. Naturally.

Should heaven prove his next stop, the late senator from West Virginia will find power arrangements slightly different: no voters to entice with favors, no positions or offices to claim and guard jealously. What a revelation!

Meantime, here on our power-mad earth, let's finally do term limits.

Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
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