By Lee Elci
During his farewell address in 1796, George Washington said, “However (political parties) may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”
We The people − not the politicians − should employ the power. Our government, along with all of its supporting players, should represent their constituents with the utmost grace, excellence and humility. Sadly, the days of the humble public servant have been annexed by despicable displays of opportunistic Machiavellianism.
The last resort of a desperate electorate may be federal term limits.
The impregnable Washington elite must exchange the ideas of their own invincibility with a sense of a perpetual/pending fragility. Citizen legislators, not entrenched lifetime politicians, may be the only answer to breaking the cycle of political careerism.
West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd, who in the early 1940s organized and led a chapter of the KKK, served longer than anyone in the history of the United States Senate. For 51 years, five months and 25 days, the “King of Pork” was one of the 100 most influential and powerful people on the planet (one of 96 when he was first elected).
It’s inconceivable that the founding fathers envisioned or desired one person wielding this immense power for over five decades.
Democrat Rep. John Dingell would have called Byrd a short timer as the congressman served Michigan for 59 years. Dingell’s father, John Dingell Sr., had that seat for 22 years prior, and now Dingell’s wife currently sits in the same chair. Nearly a century worth of political clout for any one family is distressing and painfully reminiscent of a monarchy. This absurdity has become all too common.
Currently, the list of congressmen with more than 20 years of service is multiplying exponentially. Senators Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., 45 years; Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., 35 Years; Richard Shelby, (R) Ala. 33 years; and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., 28 Years, sit atop the list of senators in overall time served.
The longest serving members of the House of Representatives are Don Young, R-Alaska, 47 years; Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., 41 years; Hal Rogers, R-Ky., 39 years; Chris Smith, R-N.Y., 39 years; and Steny Hoyer, D-Md., 39 Years. Other household notables who have punched decades worth of timecards on the American dime include California Democrats Nancy Pelosi; Maxine Waters and Jerry Nadler and Connecticut’s own Rosa DeLauro.
An argument has always been made that the ballot box was the most effective method in limiting a politician’s power and influence, but modern Washington is a drastic departure from what the founders intended.
Broad-based name recognition, along with what’s usually a significant advantage in a campaign war chest, gives incumbents a huge election advantage. Since 1964, 93% of representative races went to the incumbent. And although the Senate races are more volatile, only once since 1980 have less than 80% of Senate incumbents gotten reelected.
Enacting term limits would go a long way in preventing lawmakers from amassing immovable levels of power. The disconnect between lifers and their constituents would ideally begin to evaporate. Lobbyists’ influence would decelerate, and the ulcer of political fundraising might finally take a back seat to the actual act of governing.
With term limits in place, Congress will be more responsible toward constituents and less focused on reelection. If term limits were enforced, voting along strict party lines might disappear and the reemergence of an actual political moral compass may take root. Minorities and younger generations may become more emboldened to run as the immovable force of incumbency disintegrates. Imagine the idea of two fresh-faced energized candidates arguing on substantive issues.
Incumbent politicians, special interest groups and a handful of contrarian theorists are the only real resistance to term limits.
America wants this and needs this. But the framers of the Constitution made change difficult and implementing term limits would be achieved only by a constitutional amendment.
Individuals who hold the throttles of power too long will eventually become corrupt and/or complacent. It’s time we insist term limits be imposed on our politicians. Limit House members to six terms (12 years) and senators to three terms (18 years.) Remember, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely