WASHINGTON -- Unimpressed by Charles de Gaulle's droll observation that the graveyards are full of indispensable men, Michael Bloomberg, New York City's 108th mayor, has decided that he is indispensable. So the law limiting mayors to two terms must be revised to allow three terms.
"It's not that anyone is indispensable," said Bloomberg when announcing that the term-limits law, which was enacted by referendum and then reaffirmed by a second referendum, is an intolerable impediment to his continuing as mayor for another four years in what he calls "tough times." He was referring to Wall Street's troubles, which will shrink the city government's revenues. But the times were always in some ways tough for each of Bloomberg's 107 predecessors.
Advocates of term limits argue neither that political talent is irrelevant nor that it is ubiquitous. Rather, they argue that talent is not so scarce that the benefits of rotation in office must be sacrificed in order to prolong indefinitely a talented person's tenure in office. And they argue that the benefits of churning the talent pool exceed the costs of limiting tenures.
Bloomberg's supporters say term limits are undemocratic -- but also that the City Council should alter the limits (which apply to council members) by statute rather than submit the change to a public referendum. To the charge that term limits are undemocratic, the answer, in Palinspeak, is, "You betcha." That is, they are as undemocratic as, say, the First Amendment, which begins with the most lovely five words in the English language -- "Congress shall make no law." The amendment lists some things that the people's elected representatives cannot do even if the people want them done, such as abridge freedom of speech, or legislate the establishment of religion.
Last month, in a front-page story headlined "Across Country, New Challenges to Term Limits," The New York Times, which dislikes term limits as heartily as it likes Bloomberg, reported, without even a soupcon of irony, this:
"A decade after communities around the country adopted term limits to force entrenched politicians from office, at least two dozen local governments are suffering from a case of buyer's remorse, with legislative bodies from New York City to Tacoma, Wash., trying to overturn or tweak the laws."
Good grief. These legislative bodies, including state legislatures, are largely filled with politicians eager to become entrenched. And these bodies never did "buy" term limits. Limits were imposed on them.