Opinion: Term Limits Won’t Do
By Justin Louis Pitcock
Power is a powerful drug. So powerful, in fact, Porfirio Díaz, who led a rebellion in 1876 centered on democratic reforms and a “no re-election” mantra of passing down power, assumed the Mexican Presidency then ran and was subsequently re-elected to seven terms. He spent 31 years in office until a revolution ousted him in 1911. With similar intent, our own Senator Ted Cruz introduced a resolution proposing a constitutional amendment to limit Congressional terms. The last section of his proposed amendment provided sitting Senators’ current and previous terms do not count. Cruz himself could serve 20 years without being subject to the provisions against two terms in his own proposed amendment.
The idea term limits are necessary in a republic is as old as the ancient Greeks and Romans, but historically was reserved for lesser offices than heads of state, likely because heads of state have the power to reject the notion. But in our country, George Washington set an astounding precedent when he left after two four-year terms explicitly rejecting calls from the people to remain in power. So magnanimous was this act, subsequent U.S. presidents held to it out of tradition until the electorate demanded and FDR accepted a third and a fourth term. Roosevelt’s 12 years in office promptly led to the 22nd amendment which codified a presidential two term limit in 1951.
A just leader, theoretically, could lead a nation or represent a state with integrity indefinitely. The theoretical is not realistic, however, when it fails to consider the impact power can have on a mere human. Power corrupts, after all. The tenure of Porfirio Díaz, Ted Cruz, Julius Caesar and almost everyone who has tasted power is a testament to the incessant draw of notoriety and consequence. The arguments against term limits from those in power should be flatly discarded on this basis.
But some arguments against term limits are worth considering. Whether policymaking should be a profession rather than a charitable public service is a worthy debate, but it’s already widely accepted it should be the latter. Increased lobbyist and political party influence over which candidates get on the ballot are a potential negative side-effect of term limits. It is hard to imagine, however, any greater lobbying influence on policy than exists today or any worse use of an elected official’s time than fundraising for the party.
The strongest counter argument to term limits is potentially ceding Republican and Democratic party activists the role of kingmaker by decreasing the role of name recognition in some races. A politician with a personal brand can separate themselves from straight party voting that is prevalent today. This takes power away from the parties and is aggravating to those who draw their power directly from the party brand rather than their own merits. Think Joe Manchin in today’s Democratic party or Mitt Romney in today’s Republican party.
By expelling these candidates based on a term-limit, we could inadvertently exacerbate the ineffective, do-nothing, problem we have with Congress today by incentivizing the divisive politics which are a trademark of party influence. For this reason, it is critical to incorporate ranked choice voting and a path to end gerrymandering into any potential term-limit effort.
Combined, these three remedies would both elect leaders more representative of the people’s will and incentivize said leaders to enact the people’s wishes rather than stoke their anger. We need a system that encourages our best candidates to choose public service and to serve diligently with honor while in office.
Consider your perfect candidate — maybe a son or daughter of the plains who toiled in the fields in their youth, or volunteered to fight in our wars, or graduated from our nation’s best schools, or has a track record of serving the less fortunate. This American all-star wants to lead, and we want them to take the helm. With a term limit in place, they must make mark in the House with a ticking clock if they want to remain in public service and seek higher office. Imagine incentivizing our best and brightest to serve in a policymaking capacity and giving them the up-or-out mentality of the corporate and military world where you make a positive impact on our country to earn your promotion, or you find another job. It’s a stark improvement over a system that rewards peddlers of fear.
The American people already want term limits and the more folks who look into ranked choice, the more are interested. Gerrymandering is a long-hated practice. The only thing stopping these good governance policies from becoming reality is current elected and party officials’ ability to distract us from doing so. The American republic was set up for lasting success in 1776 when we declared the blessings of liberty should be secured for all. Let us refocus on this virtue and rebalance power toward the people and away from the political parties we were warned about.
Pitcock, a US Marine Corps veteran and member of the principled conservative organization, Principles First, is a business owner in Texas. Twitter: @jlouispitcock