Opinion

Term Limits. Now, More Than Ever.

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Posted: Aug 15, 2020 12:01 AM
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
Term Limits. Now, More Than Ever.

Source: AP Photo/Matthew Brown

In an era where every truly systemic issue in Washington has alluded America’s politicians for decades, political dynasties, big money, special interests, and the toxic rise of identity politics has led to the disgusting entrenchment of party politics amounting to not less, but more of the same from the rightly named “swamp.” 

Those in western states, sans the “left coast”, know more than most the usefulness of forest fires. In politics, it’s time conservatives initiate a new aggressive push for the “fire” of term limits on Members of Congress. Doing so would act as a routine “controlled burn” within the government, having the same necessary effect of fires that help purge forests of old and unnecessary byproducts of their ecosystems.

I harken back to a conversation with myself, a now defeated Republican member’s chief of staff and a Washington reporter for the Denver Post discussing, among other issues of the day, the prospects of term limits. Both “swampishly” laughed at me when I brought up the prospect of forcefully pushing for term limits. It was as if these would-be-otherwise political adversaries were in complete agreement that term limits were not only a fool’s errand but an utterly stupid endeavor. 

That was a big wake-up call for anyone with already rapidly fading rose-colored glasses. Here was a supposed champion of a free press and open ideas agreeing with a powerful internal broker within Republican circles unequivocally agreeing that term limits were not only a stupid notion akin to a Libertarian fantasy but an unacceptable topic to even bring up amid the conversations of “change” in Washington. 

Their condemnation of term limits is the very thing that ails Washington - that change is their vision, not of the People’s. They hold an intrinsic belief that their daily work is profoundly more important than the work of millions of Americans who pay their salaries and foot the bills for so many ridiculous spending practices and foreign entanglements.

Congress needs a built-in mechanism of regularized wildfire in the form of term limits to ensure the most effectual change agents ascend within national civil service and thereby fail or succeed by the merit of tact and persuasion. If an elected member fails by only delivering platitudes placating special interests, at least the People know the shelf life. New choices will inevitably emerge.

With term limits, results will rule the day and define a public servant’s days in office more than the speeches they give or the party dollars they raise. This simple but daunting reform should extend to congressional staff and lobbying as well.

To only limit terms for Members of Congress would be ignorant of the tremendous power and effect congressional staff has on the outcomes of all legislative endeavors. Staff accounts for most, if not all, legislating and negotiation in Congress. If staffing Members of Congress were truly a civil service then it would be rooted in the institution, not the party or candidate occupying the office. All congressional staff should be limited to their terms of service as well.

Singularly capping an elected member’s term of service emboldens the “swamp” and “deep state” by the entrenchment of congressional staff and lobbyists. Term limits on Members of Congress must be accompanied by limits on what President Trump should rebrand as a civil service corps for congressional staff.

Most would agree this is ideal but contend it’s not practical given the enormous “lift” of garnering buy-in to support such a plan, let alone one that likely requires a constitutional amendment. But America has implemented term limits on its top office already. Our next step should be a maximum of three terms for senators and six terms for representatives irrespective of their consecutive nature. Under this plan, if a lawmaker is unable to effect change in a theoretical 30 terms in Congress and a possible two in the presidency, what more must be proven to the electorate to justify their residency?

Likewise, congressional staff should be classified as a special civil service contingent with a lifetime ban on lobbying the institution(s) which they previously served. This would still allow for cross-institutional knowledge sharing while prohibiting much of the partisan and special interests entrenchment rendered so magnificently ineffectual during COVID (see K Street). 

Term limits on Members of Congress don’t limit voter choice, it enhances it. It’s a built-in way to ensure new leaders, uncorrupted by money and power, must earn the votes of their districts, and thereby do the most good in the time they have. 

To say that term limits would result in an unnecessary limit on institutional capacity is also a fallacy. If citizen legislators cannot execute the duties of government, outside of the professionalization of a politician, then again, what's the point of voting?

Others argue term limits artificially stymies the effectiveness of elected representatives once they’ve gained their political footing. Tough. The government has an uncanny way of bastardizing newly learned competent lawmakers into the party and special interest hacks. Citizen legislators matter.

The “revolving door phenomenon” is actually minimized not increased, with term limits. One’s influence on public policy should be measured by the effect of the laws they enact, not by the tangential and immeasurable relationships they may forge in smoke-filled backrooms unafraid of eventual irrelevance. The point of elected office is to leave a mark of legality for the betterment of all Americans, not to assign your name to it for glory and posterity. 

With term limits, remembrance of legislative successes would continually water the roots that hold America high above all others. Voters will remain the strongest mechanism for the removal of ineffectual lawmakers while also realizing the dignity of knowing the inevitable entrenchment of career politicians and staff face an unavoidable and codified limit.

To discard these ideas as fantastical trash is to harbor the realized terror our Founders had over the eventual, immovable, and tyrannical government less concerned with our People and more so with perpetuating an ineffectual and self-serving profitable existence.