One of the pleasures of working to restore limited government is corresponding with many fine people who have a similar goal. While conservatives have their differences, they are usually minor and easy to paper over. There is one issue, though, that is poised to cause serious damage to the conservative cause, and through it, to America. That issue is the push for term limits.
The argument for term limits is simple. When a congressman has been in Washington for some years, he falls in love with his job. He loses touch with the people in his district, and forgets any public interest he may have had in mind when he first ran for office. He needs to be replaced in order to restore representation to his constituents, but as an incumbent he is very difficult to dislodge. Term limits would automatically throw him out after a fixed number of terms. Problem solved.
This reasoning appeals to many conservatives. After all, when someone in office loses touch with his constituents, it usually means that he moves toward the left. When we see the likes of Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) or Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Indiana), who have been in office since most of us were children, the prospect of an easy way of ousting them presents a serious temptation.
Unfortunately, there just isn’t an easy route to good government. We object when liberals approach every problem by saying, “Let the government do it!” We correctly point out the disasters that result when government tries to eliminate poverty through welfare, pollution and job hazards through federal regulation, or retirement insecurity through Social Security and Medicare. Why would we think that government regulation of congressional terms would solve the problem of people re-electing liberal legislators?
The term limits idea should be rejected for three reasons: they will not work, they are not needed, and the movement which espouses them poses a danger to the Constitution. Term limits will not ensure the election of public-spirited legislators because they improve neither the quality of the candidates for office, nor the thought processes of the voters. Most candidates for congressional seats have been legislators at either the state or federal level for many years before running for this particular office. The voters would need to be just as alert and knowledgeable about these “new” faces as they should have been about the old, if removing the incumbent from the race is to do any good. With so many conservatives in Congress now, we are almost as likely to lose a good incumbent as a bad one through term limits.
The recent high turnover in Congress shows that we do not need term limits to remove jaded legislators. Most members of the House of Representatives have been in office for less than six years. The original Constitutional Convention considered and rejected term limits in favor of a short interval between elections. The Framers of the Constitution knew what they were doing.
Those who are leading the drive toward term limits are not appropriate leaders for conservatives who support the Constitution. The U.S. Term Limits organization has long been on record as favoring a Constitutional Convention to reach their goal. This year, they are rushing about from state to state, getting con-con resolutions introduced in the state legislatures. There is no single event that holds more danger for our constitutional system than a Constitutional Convention in our benighted era. I’m convinced that if the con-con promoters succeed in bringing about such a convention, we can kiss our hard-won liberties good-bye. No political goal is worth taking that risk.
Nobody is forcing voters to re-elect incumbents, and it would be wrong to force them to reject incumbents. If we want to replace liberal legislators with people who will stand up for our Constitution, there is only one right way to do it. We must have an informed and responsible electorate. No amount of structural reform can replace the hard work needed to create such a body of voters. Let’s forget about term limits and work to expose our legislators’ voting records, good or bad, for all to see.