Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Revisiting an Old Topic

Recently this question of limiting United States Congressional members to one term of service was raised once again over at the Federalist Patriot blog. And as per the usual the discussion pretty much centered around the idea that restricting our servants to one term of service on the one hand, would bring fresh blood and fresh ideas into the United States Congress. This in turn, it is assumed, would result in actually getting things done in Congress....and good things at that. On the other hand, the opponents of term limits argued that term limiting Congress would effectively limit the People in their choices, not to mention that we already have virtual term limits in place - we just don't exercise them often enough, or more precisely, we just don't exercise them properly enough. Obviously the opinion of the contributers here falls more in line with the latter of the opposing viewpoints. We find ourselves squarely in that camp because it cannot be argued with any propriety that term limiting Congress is anything less than restricting the voters in their choices, nor can it be said that the People already possess anything less than the ultimate in term-limiting power - the elective franchise. In short, term limits exist in their purest form at the national level of our government, and their existence in that form merely restricts voting citizens to the most reasonable of terms - suitable age and character.

However, we believe the point is not really whether or not term limits are a good idea. Our position is rather that the attentions of would-be reformers should be directed more to the point of what is the most viable of our alternatives for accomplishing the shared goals of both camps. While we do not doubt the good intentions of those who advocate for term limits, we cannot stand idly by and allow the road to h*ll to be paved with those intentions. On the other hand, whenever this question comes up, there is generally a notable perspective often overlooked by the members of both camps - that of common ground. In other words, dear reader, from either perspective (advocating for term limits or advocating against them), the point is that the desired results, or effects, are in a general sense, shared desires of both perspectives. Both perspectives claim a common desire, and state as their goal more positives accomplished at the national level than we are currently getting. It is that common ground that we shall seek to emphasize.

It would be less than useful though, to offer up a common-ground alternative to term limits without first laying out in a rational fashion our reasons for which term-limits have not the potential to effect our common and desired goals. Nor would it be useful or honest in emphasizing this common-ground perspective to lend the slightest pretense to our having an open-mind with regard to the institution of Congressional term limits. No, dear reader, we do not believe term limits have the potential to effect our common goals. Indeed, we believe term-limits have the exact opposite potential, virtually guarantying the worsening of our national condition as opposed to the desired effects of making anything better.

In the conversation at the aforementioned blog, something of a unique perspective was offered on the subject. "Unique" I say, because whenever this subject raises its head on occasion, it is rarely, if ever, discussed from this perspective. In short, dear reader, the perspective amounts to this - our Congress, under term limits, would be perpetually comprised of a bunch of inexperienced sophomores. In fact, at the very moment that the upper house of that body gained its greatest experience, by law under term limits, the very members possessing the most experience in that body - fully one-third of the United States Senate - would all be replaced with persons possessing zero experience in that body. And that, my friends, can never be appropriate to our form of government. Allow me to rephrase that: It can never be appropriate to our form of government to have as its legislative arm a body of people with an overall sophomoric understanding of government, good intentions notwithstanding. The reasons for this are briefly covered under the following headings:

1. The Necessity of an Experienced Congress:

Among the nations of the world, the United States is arguably the most powerful, stable, and self-correcting of all the governments of the earth. One characteristic of our government which gives it such overall favorable qualities, internally and externally, is its tendency to reform, correct, and adjust itself to the ever-changing world around it slowly, methodically, and peacefully. With few exceptions, we may look to the most successful and stable corporations within and without our country and identify the same basic elements marking them, as well as our government, with the same outstanding qualities. Among these is an internal governmental structure which by design creates an air of stability with a singularity of purpose in mind - the best good of the whole. While one wouldn't argue that such a design compromises the basic integrity of a company or corporation, it seems that a large segment of our society would argue along those lines with regard to our national government. In any event, reason itself is assaulted whenever we, by inference and extension, argue that there exists no need, and indeed quite to the contrary, for the stabilizing influence experience and a knowledge of business is uniquely capable of providing in our national legislature.

2. Internal Stability is of Primary Concern:

Anyone who knows anything at all about the founding generation, knows that they were thoroughly persuaded that violent and sudden changes could rarely, if ever, be considered good for the country. By "violent and sudden changes" I mean to say - creating a situation (in this case, by the institution of term limits) wherein there is a rapid and regular turnover in Congress; the bringing in, on a continual and regular basis, of fresh blood, fresh ideas, and folks driven by the "fire in their bellies," yet, in so doing, and indeed as a goal in itself by the very institution itself, retaining no effective check against an overzealous approach by which to control that passion. In doing so, it does not take a large leap of faith to imagine our Senate, after two or three successive election cycles, being largely comprised of a bunch of zealous "reformers" bent on overthrowing certain national traditions the people have become rather accustomed to, only to have their "reforms" overthrown by a new group of zealous reformers bent on the same destructive practice. The internal disorders that would necessarily and regularly accompany such as this are too frightening to contemplate.

3. Too Much democracy; not enough Republicanism and Federalism:

Since we already find ourselves in the precarious position of our Senate being chosen by direct vote of the people, it could never be appropriate to that body specifically, to allow us through term limits, to slip ever closer to that of a pure democracy. We beg your indulgence in allowing us an explanation here: If term limits are ever instituted at the national level of our government, effectively we would be usurping the very foundations of federalism by throwing the whole government completely and utterly out of balance. What remnants of federalism (balanced government) we have left must be carefully guarded at all costs, until that day when we can re-establish balance as a central idea under this union. To grant the People term limits is again to give them more direct control over the national business, when they can be little knowlegable as to the vast array of details in which that national business operates and consists. And let us be clear in stating that while our argument that term limits restricts the voters in their choices seems at first blush to contradict our argument here that such an institution gives them more direct control, the fact is there is no contradiction to be found in the two arguments. By the institution itself voters would be restricted in their choices, there can be no doubt about that. However, by the same institution, Constitutional restrictions on their having a direct say in the national business would be virtually, and finally overthrown. On the one hand, their rights would be materially and really restricted. On the other, and by the same institution, they would assume a more direct and leading role in the conduct of the national business. This latter is a dangerous pursuit, and shall be further expounded upon in the remaining arguments.

4. External Wars would result from Term Limits.

Our Senators and representatives are called to perform specific Constitutional duties. By the Constitution of the United States, our Senate is called to confirm or reject the President's nominations for such vitally important posts as ambassadorships, seats on the Supreme and lower courts, and etc... This duty in itself requires a Senate that is very knowledgable of its business. Consider for instance that our national government is tasked, first and foremost, with the national security and defense of this nation. Part of that duty is comprised in our relationship with other Nations and States around the world. I ask you, my friends, what comfort could a friendly, not to mention a rogue nation derive from a Senate which exhibits no stability; which doesn't even as much as exhibit the appearance of being firm and knowledgable - indeed, much to the contrary? Yes, my friends, the simple institution of term limits would result, I doubt not, in effectively compromising the security of this nation. It would do so because in addition to the natural tendencies of other nations to distrust this one, and vice-versa, term limits would overthrow that one element to which heretofore other nations around the globe have looked upon our government with the most faith and certainty - stability. When we consider that we have international treaties that this nation has long committed itself to, not to mention that we are sure to form new alliances in the future, there can be no doubt about the detrimental impact term-limits would have on our national security. This nation has never seen the kinds and numbers of wars that would likely result from merely instituting term limits. We needn't give ourselves any more occasion for wars, just or unjust. Not only would it not be in our national interest to do so, but it would be a concurrent violation of our national duty to the international community to institute term limits at the national level.

5. An Exercise in Futility; A Surer Method of Reform.

Had term limits the slightest potential to effect the desired results of their advocates, we would be the first to acknowledge it, my friends. By the same token, if term limits are found to be so wantonly devoid of any such potential, upon even a rather cursory inspection, then we count it among our highest duties to do our small part in resigning the idea to the ash-heap. It is our firm belief that there exists a far superior alternative to term limits. This alternative offers all of us real potential to effect the designs generally intended by the institution of term limits. As was said before, we do not doubt the sincerity and the good intentions of advocates of term limits. We merely disagree that term limits are the best means to our common ends. Our common ends, or goals, can be summed up in these words - to reform and strengthen this government; to effect the kinds of changes that have long-term, positive results. We believe there is a way to accomplish this which would not require compromising our national security, our internal stability, nor the overall knowledge and experience of our legislative branch. The violent and sudden changes incident to the institution of term limits would be avoided by this method, and perhaps most appealing of all, this method would not require that anyone violate their core values. And once more, my friends, such an outstanding method is it, that in the very midst of internal reform, our nation would remain in the eyes of the world, and this very people, as strong and stable as ever it was. In a word, my friends, our common goals could be met in the fullest extent via the resurrecting of a simple, yet pure American idea - Balanced government. For more on this, see the other articles posted to this blog. Your comments and questions are as always, welcome.


The Monarchist said...

D. Webster,

Magnificent! Wonderful! This should forever put to rest the well-intentioned but foolish thinking that term limits are "the answer."

Except, human nature being what it is, we'll probably have to reference this many times to debunk the idea that there's some magical bullet to cure our ills. Nicely done, my friend.


Samuel Adams said...

I would add to that Exquisite. Otherwise, I concur. Humans are such that should and will are usually two very different things.

Now, can all those nabobs and nincompoops stop bad-mouthing people from Oklahoma? You know who you are!

Anonymous said...

I find some validity in your arguements, however I saw no alternative solutions offered.
Please offer up what you believe the end result should be and an alternative path for reaching said result.

Daniel Webster said...


First, welcome to the AFB. Please visit us as frequently as you like, and we will do our very best to answer your questions in the fullest extent possible.

Second, if you will go to point five in the piece, you will find that I in fact did offer an (italicised) alternative solution. But this piece is primarily dedicated to debunking the idea of instituting term-limits at the national Congressional level. Had I gone into any further detail with regard to alternative solutions, not only would I have been retracing previous steps, but the length of the piece would have been altogether unmanageable, the integrity and purpose of this particular argument against term-limits would have been compromised or destroyed, and the readers would most likely have lost themselves in all the little details.

Point five also directs the readers to the other posts to this blog. Several of these posts have generated a good deal of discussion between the contributers and the readers. These discussions are quite interesting and informative on this question of "an alternative path to an end result."

You may access those posts which do not appear on your screen by clicking on one of the months listed under "Archives" to the left of your screen.

If you have any more questions after having read the archives, please do not hesitate to ask.

-D Webster

The Monarchist said...


Further to Webster's instructions, please focus on our posts describing balanced government, the cornerstone of Federalism.


Call Me Mom said...

Very nicely done Mr. Webster.

Daniel Webster said...

A little bit of neglected housekeeping here...

1. Thanks to everyone for your very nice comments - Hamilton, Adams, Anonymous, Mom. I had to wait for the swelling in my head to go down before I could get back in here to clean up. ;)

2. Who's bad-mouthing people from Oklahoma???

3. Anonymous, this particular posting is part of a series on term limits the contributers here began way back when. It amounts to a delayed edition of the previously posted originals entitled respectively:

"Term Limits - A Well Intentioned Nonsense," and "On the Concept of Term Limits - no's 1 & 2." These posts may be accessed by clicking on the months of May and June, 2006 respectively.

The delay in its posting, however, does not take away from the fact that it is indeed one (or the latest) edition in the series on term limits.

4. Methinks the laurels "magnificent," "wonderful,""exquisite" might be more appropriately applied to this specific comment:

"...describing balanced government, the cornerstone of federalism."

And it has given me an idea for an upcoming posting. Stay tuned, y'all.