Sunday, July 31, 2005

Term Limits

Sorry about the lack of posting. I've been eating up a lot of my blogging time with my study of Sun-Tzu's Art of War, catching up on learning about Col. John Boyd, and getting ready for college; more specifically, studying for the AFOQT. Hopefully some or all of that will have some usefulness in my life. Anyway, I finally got around to doing something I've been meaning to do for awhile: add a "favorite posts" section to the sidebar. While by no means are these the only posts I find insightful, or meaningful, these are the ones that I think are some of my best writing and ones that really give an inside look as to what I believe. In the process of doing this, I also dug up another one of my old think pieces, this one on term limits. So, since I'm somewhat busy and definitely more than slightly lazy, I'm just going to recycle the think piece to get something of substance on here over the weekend. Enjoy!

The Founding Fathers obviously felt that turnover in government was a good thing. The House was only given a 2 year term, while Washington set a tradition of a two term limit on the Presidency. Jefferson even went so far as to advocate occasional outright revolution. With all this emphasis on a small government that refreshed itself often, it seems curious that the Founding Fathers did not write term limits into the Constitution. However, if one looks closer at the Constitution and its principles, one will see that there are two very specific reasons that term limits were left out.

A fundamental argument against term limits is that adding term limits will interfere with the Constitutional principle that all men were inherently power hungry and that in order to guarantee a functioning democracy, men in government needed to be set against one another. Term limits act against this principle because they interfere with the natural flow of Congress. The framers of the Constitution intended Congress to be able to develop a cycle, with different factions being able to gain and hold power for periods of time, only to be contested by opposing factions. In order for this cycle to be effective, Congress must only be affected by the issues felt important by their constituents, free from any artificial extensions or limitations of the terms of its members. If term limits are introduced, the members of different factions would be unable to consolidate power since they would be in office for relatively short intervals. This would result in a weak, ineffectual Congress, since no faction would be able to gain decisive power.

On a more basic level, term limits go against one of the foundations of the Constitution, which is that the legislative branch is supposed to ultimately represent the will of the people. Term limits would automatically limit the choice of the people by forcing Congressmen out after a set period of time, even if his constituents want him to continue to represent them. What it comes down to is whether the people should be trusted with electing good leaders or if the people should be contained by using term limits. Ironically, the Framers actually trusted the people on this issue, retaining for them the unlimited power to choose their representatives, albeit indirectly in the case of the Senate. The Framers likely did this because they trusted the people enough to believe that they would elect officials that would represent their constituents best, and that if every district and state did this, the net effect would be good for the country. What was true back then is still true today. The country is best served when each constituency is well represented in Congress by representatives who are free from constraints.

Term limits go against two of the basic principles outlined in the Constitution: the principle of political competition, and the principle of Congress representing the will of the people. With term limits, Congress becomes an ineffectual rotating body, in which the people are unable to truly choose who they wish to represent them. The bottom line is that the concept of musical chairs does not form a sound basis for a legislature.