Paul Jacob

Democrat to "stay" democratic, that would be one thing. But you can't, they don't, so let's move on, vigilant. Without vigilance citizens haven't a ghost of a chance.)

Another possible answer is that politicians are just dumber than business people. But I don't quite buy that. Politicians are so effective at hiding their true natures, so effective in defending their sorry records to their constituents, that I just can't believe that they are as stupid as they suggest. This whole gambit of "it's just too hard" rubs against the grain of the savvy political operative we've all come to know and . . . distrust. Florida's Speaker of the House, after insisting how difficult learning the process was, recognized that he seemed to be casting aspersions onto his fellow legislators. "I'm not implying," he hastily added, "that our members ? please don't read this into it ? don't know what's going on." Well, that's precisely what he was implying. And he did so for a purpose.

Face it: politicians aren't clueless ? not about politics itself. They overstate difficulties for a reason. Behind their lies and hyperbole is the truth: there is no inevitable and permanent barrier to newcomers, no burdensomely steep learning curve. Any politically savvy citizen of moderate intelligence could quickly acclimate himself or herself to any legislature in the country. Provided that legislature had term limits.

Why do term limits matter?

Well, the politicians' complaints about learning curves and their own pixilated stupidity may have some bearing in reality. Politicians just ascribe to these factors a permanence they do not actually possess.

Here's what I mean: It may very well be the case that, under the old regime, where seniority counted for everything and where the internal power of the legislatures was divvied up amongst those longest in office, learning how to legislate was necessarily slow. Why? Because it was designed to be slow. What use would it be to the powers that be to have young legislators take over too soon? The less the newbies know, the better. For the oldsters, anyway.

What people too often forget is that a system encourages certain behaviors and discourages certain others. A set-in-place system sets a context. It's the same in education. Just as legislators say it takes years to accumulate the requisite knowledge to make good law, one could say it takes twelve years to learn how to read. But that's just in some public schools. In other contexts ? that is, better schools ? kids learn much more quickly.

In better legislatures, with limited terms for legislators, our representatives will learn fast, too. After all, they aren't numskulls. Well, most of them.


Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.