I have always been against term limits when applied to elected officials. My chief disagreement with them revolves around the idea of free elections and republican democracy.
In a republic we elect the people we wish to govern us. We should be able to elect whomever we wish regardless of how often we have elected them previously. Elected officials who have shown themselves positively to the electorate, for whatever reasons, is an excellent argument for their reelection.
Yes, I understand the advantage an incumbent possesses over a mere aspirant, but isn’t most of that advantage the popularity that incumbent enjoys because of a job well done? And yes, I understand there are other aspects of being an incumbent that do not speak to a job well done but still provide a certain advantage.
I suppose I would be more moved by some of the reasoning used by term limits proponents if it wasn’t so blatantly hypocritical. When one party has been in power for a while and the opposing parties have not been able to dislodge them, the term limits arguments come out –– until the out-party becomes the in-party. Then all those well-reasoned arguments, all those examples of poor behavior attributable to longevity are forgotten by the used-to-be-out-but-now-is-in party and are taken up by the recently-in-but-now-deposed party. Usually the same arguments, the same examples, the same behaviors, the same hypocrisy.
Our second or third greatest president (depending on where you put Washington) was elected four times with never enough ballot-box chicanery to attach any significance. what was wrong with that? Some would quote the same reasoning, the same examples, which I understand but do not sway me.
I have to say, however, that I recently noted an argument for term limits that made me stop and think.
Several lawmakers at the Federal level have accepted the fact that they cannot achieve reelection. Each, I believe, would be beaten out in primary elections by persons more radical, more hidebound, less moderate, and more uncompromising.
Have these soon-to-be-replaced representatives from both the House and the Senate, and elsewhere come to an epiphany? How else to explain their attitudes? Notwithstanding the facts that they had served multiple terms, upon realizing they could not be reelected they suddenly looked around and noticed how bad things had become in government. Speaking against their respective houses, their leaders, their parties, they now speak their minds, tell us what is really going on. They must assuage their consciences and point out what now, after all their time in office, all their previous terms, must be corrected, or else.
Of course it goes without saying that such observations and public utterances would have doomed any reelection hope, but now that reelection is no longer a possibility, they find a new awareness.
You know a cynic might say these folks could have come to these understandings even before their last election and remained silent, but that’s cynics for you.
Anyhow, I got to thinking that if our elected officials were barred by term limits from perennial reelection, we might hear more truthfully, more often from those officials. Perhaps only at the end of the last limited term, but that is better than never, isn’t it?
Still, I remain opposed to term limits because I, like Jefferson, believe in an educated electorate choosing the representatives we wish for as long as we wish. But I have to say that all these Casandra-like warnings coming from officials being challenged from the radical wings of their parties have provided the best, somewhat frightening, but seriously thoughtful argument for term limits I have encountered.
What do you think?