Monday, May 29, 2006

On the Concept of Term Limits - No. I

To the Citizens of the United States of America:

It is evident upon no more than a cursory inspection, that the citizenry in general is supportive of the concept of term limits for Congress and the office of President of the United States. The former is a regular topic of conversation among people, on radio talk shows, and on political discussion boards of every persuasion; the latter, an accepted Amendment to our Constitution. In either case, such sentiment, however well-intentioned, is notable for its fallaciousness and is indicative of an incompletion of thought; furthermore, our tradition of Americanism and Federalism is directly opposed to the convention of term limits, a point we will prove in the course of the following essays. A brief history of term limits is warranted as a beginning.

Presidential Term Limits
Early Presidents adhered to a tradition of two terms until after the Civil War. According to the internet encyclopedia, Wikipedia: "Ulysses S. Grant sought a third term in office after serving from 1869 to 1877, but his party failed to nominate him. Theodore Roosevelt, who served from 1901 to 1909, sought to be elected in 1912 (non-consecutively) for a second time—he had succeeded to the presidency on William McKinley's assassination and already been elected in 1904 to a full term himself—but he lost to Woodrow Wilson. In 1940 Franklin Delano Roosevelt became the first person to be elected President three times, with supporters citing the war in Europe as a reason for breaking with precedent. In the 1944 election, during World War II, he won a fourth term, but died in office the following year." (1)

Presidential term limits were instituted with the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, proposed in Congress in 1947 and ratified by the requisite number of states in 1951. The rationale at the time appears to have been the concern that one person could assume the position of an almost "benevolent dictator", without Constitutional limits to Presidential terms.

Such sentiment, however, assumes that human nature itself changes, and there occurs a complete and abject failure on the part of the citizenry. Such a scenario - that a President would assume dictatorial powers - is predicated upon either a most evil conspiracy or minimally the implicit approval of the other branches of government, both the Legislative and Judiciary. As each guards with extreme jealousy its Constitutionally-mandated sphere of power (and indeed experience would show that each branch seeks where possible to extend its influence beyond such limits), human nature therefore, to say nothing of a desire to uphold the Constitution, provides a sufficient guarantee that no one man could rise to such a station in a federal representative republic. But, if one can conjure up such a scenario - despite how chimerical it may seem - one still fails to account for the citizenry, who vote for the office every four years and exercise our Second Amendment Rights. Such a people, enamored with Liberty as we are, as a general rule can sense a charlatan when one comes before us, and even if elected, would not last in office for long. The number of one-term Presidents is evidence of the discernment of the American people: again, as a general rule, when a poor administrator comes along, his tenure in office is not long. Any discerning mind can propose exceptions to the rule, yet acknowledge that the existence of exceptions fails to invalidate the accepted generalization.

If such was the reasoning at the time - that one man might become de facto President for life, and therefore term-limits are necessary - upon what basis is it acceptable today that an error, merely because it has been endured for an extended period of time, should not be rectified? It is said that a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it the superficial appearance of being right. We trust that with inspection, a wise and energetic citizenry will cast aside superficial appearances.

Congressional Term Limits
Term limits, with respect to Congress, are more and more commonly a topic for discussion among supposedly thinking persons. Such a sentiment, again though well-intentioned, is folly born of experience and frustration at an unchanging force: I speak again of human nature.

When such a discussion comes up, the proponent invariably says: “Look at the Senator from Massachusetts, Edward Kennedy. He is Senator for life! How can this be, that he returns to office every election, when his moral character is so poor and his ideas so remarkably socialistic in nature?”

Other supporters of term limits focus on the corruption of Congress – rather than that body's actual or perceived ignorance – as the effect of unlimited public service. This argument assigns guilt to the system for the sins of public servants. This most common theme of proponents of term limits is summarized thus: term-limited public servants will somehow create legislators who are more upright, moral, and not prone to corruption. They will be insulated from the influence of lobbyists and faithful to the concerns of their constituents.

A Comprehensive Response to Correct Inaccurate Thinking
We will endeavor to show that term-limits in every form are poor policy. Term-limits conflict with Liberty; they encourage apathy and laziness and are inconsistent with self-government; term-limits exist already today in their right and proper form, yet remain unused; and term-limits create an inappropriate balance of power in our federal republic. All of these reasons will be proven through a review of experience and an understanding of human nature, rendering term-limits incompatible with the tenets of Americanism and Federalism.

Footnotes: (1)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Any problem with the various states enacting term limits for local and state offices?