As a career, a seat in Congress becomes a conflict of interest.
An incumbent who seeks re-election cannot freely vote his conscience, or his principles, for fear that he is going to offend some slice of the electorate, reducing his chances of re-election.
Obviously, one way to correct this problem is to reduce or eliminate eligibility for re-election. In other words, establish either a one or two term limit on all offices in government.
In all the the noise among the pundits, editorialists, and bloggers about the significance of any election, nowhere does anyone address the the most obvious characteristic – that the bulk of the failings of our American electoral system is due to careerism and long tenure in the body politic, particularly in Congress.
No one has stood up and yelled “It’s about re-elections, stupid! Not issues!”
No one seems to recognize that, in the desperate struggle to hold on to their extremely ‘cushy’ jobs, career politicians will vote, not on principle or merit, but on their ‘re-election odds’ only.
Those that do it successfully, go on to lifelong tenure (e.g. Byrd, Kennedy, Stevens, Domenici, et al). Those who try to hold to principle invariably serve very short terms.
In other words, if your first concern is re-election, rather than what is best for the country, you reap the rewards of a long tenure. Is this any way to run a country?
The fundamental reason we need Congressional Term Limits is simply that Congress is no longer doing its job. Instead, it is working very hard at keeping its job.
Of the many hot issues actually ‘debated’ by Congress and passed, most have been so chewed up, amended, and emasculated, that they are often not worth the paper they are written on. Congress will do anything it can to avoid making clear-cut decisions to get good legislation, in order not to offend or lose the voters they need for re-election.
Some people would say that’s the way a democracy works, and to some degree that’s true, but that’s an oversimplification. Rather, what we are seeing is a Congressional class which is overwhelmingly committed to re-election first, all other considerations, especially good governance, last. This is true on both sides of the aisle.
The best evidence of this is the fact that in two recent (‘02, ‘04) elections; Congressional incumbents won re-election at a 99% rate. Before 50 years ago, that rate was about 50-60%. Do you really believe that 99% of incumbents deserved re-election? In two successive elections?
The ‘06 election was merely a bump in the road. Things have not changed. A great majority of the really long termers survived. They always will, thanks to gerrymandered districts, name recognition, and other incumbent advantages. We still have a virtually permanent Congress.
How this has come about can be understood by examining Congressional voting patterns on the major issues in our current political environment, all of which are now routine, and all of which have arisen during the last part of the 20th century, as Congress has learned how to ‘game the system’.
For example, and the following applies to both sides of the aisle:
- They don’t reform Soc Sec to get personal retirement accounts. They might lose voters for re-election
- They don’t reform health care to get personal medical accounts. They might lose voters for re-election
- They don’t stop earmarks, because they want to spend federal money for local votes for re-election
- They don’t vote school choice, because they want teacher’s union money for re-election
- They don’t vote for tort reform, because they want lawyer money for re-election
- They don’t vote for right-to-work, because they want union money for re-election
- They don’t want computer neutral redistricting, because they want safe seats for re-election
- They don’t deregulate campaign financing with instant disclosure, because they lose contributors for re-election
- They won’t lower taxes, because they won’t be able to vote irresponsible ‘goodies’ for re-election
- They won’t reduce the size of government, because that would reduce their control of voters for re-election
- Last, but not least, Congressional office has become a career livelihood, which is in itself, a conflict of interest, because incumbents become more interested in holding on to the job than passing good legislation. Unlimited reelections should not be allowed.
A great many state and local legislative offices are already term limited. Why not Congress???
This article was written by Nelson Walker, a guest contributor whose site shows his term limit knowledge.
This article and others on Back to Common Sense are designed to provoke further thought and investigation. It is not the intent for the articles to be politically biased. Sources are referenced in each article to encourage readers to delve into the supporting material. We welcome all readers to participate with their point of view either in support or contrary with additional information sources.