Saturday, November 7, 2009

Term Limits

I hear a lot about term limits. People of all stripes are vehement about the subject whenever it comes up. I know of a few organizations that won't endorse a candidate unless she signs an oath swearing to introduce term limit legislation in whatever office she's running for. It's a very attractive idea, and I'm not necessarily opposed to it. I understand what it's like to have an incumbent virtually own the rights to a seat. My own representative, Rob Andrews (D-NJ), is in his tenth consecutive term.

For anyone who doesn't know: in 2008, Mr. Andrews ran for the Senate primary and vowed not to seek re-election in the House if he lost. Meanwhile, just in case, he put his wife up for the primary as a placeholder for his House seat. When Andrews was beaten by the then-four-term incumbent Senator Frank Lautenberg in the Senate primary, his wife miraculously withdrew her candidacy and he took her place. Welcome to the world of politics.

It’s easy to see how that kind of thing could drive people to put their foot down about term limits. But those who champion that cause have to realize that it is a double-edged sword. After all, Jim DeMint is in his 10th term, and Ron Paul is in his 11th. These are the kinds of men you want to get in office and stay in.

It has also been said that we do, in fact, have term limits; they're called "elections". I don't know if that's a very fair assessment, though. Chances of re-election are extremely slanted in favor of incumbents: they have the name recognition and other government resources at their disposal. So long as they don't step on too many of the wrong toes, re-election isn't really that big of an issue. House re-election percentages have averaged in the low 90s for a few decades now. What's that tell you?

Imposing hard term limits sounds like a good idea, and may well be in the short run, but it's definitely not a permanent answer to all of our problems. A better solution would be to hold our elected officials accountable for their actions, and to demand from them a government that is truly dedicated to protecting freedom. If our officials upheld their oath of office and actually did their job, rotating seats in government wouldn't seem like such a high priority. Until that happens, though, we'll be stuck with trying to cure a symptom of a problem that needs our real attention: the election of big government candidates to office. That’s where our reform efforts should be directed.

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