Paul Jacob
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In election result after election result, poll after poll — whether Republican, Democrat or independent; male or female; black, white, yellow, red or green — Americans by large margins want term limits for their representatives, a short leash on their servants holding an office of public trust.

But for Congress, that most unpopular institution of popular government, there are no such term limits. The people’s humble servants have told them to go fly a kite. In no uncertain terms.

Again, just this past week, three-fourths of the U.S. Senate said, “Hell no, we won’t go.” By a whopping 75 to 24 vote, Senators defeated an amendment introduced by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) that would have expressed a “sense of the Senate” for a constitutional amendment imposing a limit on congressional tenure.

Didn’t hear anything about this vote? Much of the news media ignored it, just as they eschew the issue, figuring that the officials of official Washington have consistently and unequivocally declined to return to the mass of folks about whom they care so selflessly. What are you going do about it? Case closed.

Still, for a repeatedly deceased issue, term limitation keeps popping up at the worst times for career politicians. Former House Speaker Tom Foley’s famous prediction that über-interested career politicians would successfully dodge term limits has thus far held up, but the issue did cost Foley his own seat in 1994 — making him the only Speaker defeated for re-election since before the Civil War.

(Former Speaker Newt Gingrich was nearly defeated for his House seat in 1990, winning by a mere 974 votes out of more than 150,000 cast. Oddly, Mr. Gingrich was saved by the open protection of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. But that was four years prior to the 1994 Republican Revolution that made him Speaker.)

Certainly politicians have been able to “beat the issue” — most notably when George Nethercutt, having defeated Foley on a pledge to abide by the term limits initiative passed by Washington State voters, ran for a third re-election in 2000 . . . and won. Still, today Nethercutt is gone from Congress, having run for the Senate four years later in a campaign that “never gained much traction.”

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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.