A recent letter to the editor in my local paper called again for Term Limits for elected officials. This hardy perennial comes up again and again, and is often presented as the panacea to all of the problems with government.
In short, the argument goes like this:
- If you limit terms, politicians will focus on the job at hand, not on raising money.
- If they know they don’t have to run for re-election, politicians will make tough, courageous decisions.
I guess that’s possible, but isn’t it more likely that we will get candidates who promise one thing to get elected and then do another once elected? Knowing you don’t have to be accountable to the voters might have unintended consequences.
And what makes us believe that term-limited pols will simply wander off after their term, never bothering us again? Professional pols are professional pols; they leave one office and run for another, or become a lobbyist or media commentator. Chances are, all term limits will do is change titles; the same players will still be on the field.
And speaking of sports, next time someone proposes term limits, ask them if they think that should be applied to their favorite team? What if every season required a completely different roster? Would the sport be better or worse?
All that said, my biggest problem with term limits is that it represents a complete abdication of responsibility on the part of we the people. In essence, it’s saying “I can’t be trusted to not vote for an incumbent, so please make it impossible for me to do so.” Term limits will protect us from ourselves, is that it?
We as voters have the ability to impose term limits every election. If we think that someone has served long enough, we can vote him or her out of office. At the same time, we need to demand better choices. If it’s a choice between Democrat Tweedledum and Republican Tweedlestupid, it’s hard to not stick with the Tweedle we know.
And that’s how we end up with Creeping Meatballism…a government filled with people whose major attribute is that no matter how inept, gutless, outrageous or downright idiotic a particular politician is, the opponent is worse.
For now, it seems that wise old tourist Alexis de Tocqueville said it best: in a democracy, we get the government we deserve. When will we decide we deserve better?