I have my own personal gauge for voter dissatisfaction in the nation. Without other outside indications, I know exactly when the electorate is experiencing a fever of political discontent. It’s always accompanied by in increase in my email intake from people wanting to adopt term limits. Always a direct correlation.
I know the temperature is near critical mass when I get petitions from friends who know my feelings about term limits – I’m against them – but want me to sign anyway. Frustration level: very high!
For the record, I’m one of the unhappiest campers you’ll find with the current Congress and many statehouses. We’re stalemated, lied to and cheated daily. Twice on weekends. I’ve never seen the gridlock – the animosity — the anger – the “throw-the-bums-out feelings” – as high as they are now. Poll after poll after poll shows those currently content with government number less than 20% and most of them must be high on something.
In some ways, Congress is an impediment to progress. It’s become a permanent employment system which was never intended. It harbors many denizens who say one thing at home and another along the Potomac. Some are in office despite lack of personal knowledge of how politics should be conducted or what the real problems are.
Both parties are absent effective leadership. There’s no trust, no comity, no give-and-take. In some countries, this much anger directed at the political system would result in revolution in the streets and possibly a hanging or two in a public square. So, the term limits emails pour in.
None of the term limiting versions I’ve seen would work. For several reasons. First, if an office holder could only serve a certain number of years, the ones you’d like to keep would have to leave about the time they become effective. In all other environments, length of service and experience are greatly desired because of skills learned and the institutional knowledge gained. Loss of good people and constant training of new ones of unknown ability makes poor sense.
Second, given the size of government and complexity of the issues, institutional memory is highly valued. It can make a mediocre politician better and a good politician great. But, under term limits, that necessary ingredient would be lacking in the elected and totally placed in the hands of civil servants. That’s a recipe for a weakened political system when controlled by the wrong people with no voter accountability.
And third, you have lobbyists. If you think they have too much power now, term limits would only enhance their access and control of decisions that should be made by the elected. They, too, would have the institutional memory lacking by members of Congress. That kind of memory comes only from experience. Knowing what worked and what didn’t – knowing how issues and policies came into being – knowing the historic intricacies of making government effective – all that would be lacking in the elected, giving others with their own agendas a greater opportunity for abuse.
Aside from keeping the guy busy who makes signs for the desks, office doors and parking spaces, I see no real improvement in forcing turnover through term limits and other artificial means
What I do see is a sizeable number of citizens who have no idea how government works, pay little attention to daily events, are uneducated about the nation’s political structure and justice system. Too often, people pay little to no mind to government until either it is about to affect them personally with taxes, restrictions, a war or until shortly before an election.
Too many people go to the polls not knowing anything about the candidates or issues. Too many vote their pocketbook rather than taking the time to study issue information or doing the necessary background work to make an informed decision.
American voters seem to me to be the least informed when asked to make a voting decision. A recent poll showed only 30% knew who Joe Biden is and more than 50% couldn’t name our vice president. We laugh about Jay Leno’s “man on the street” segments when we see people fail to answer simple questions about our country. Yet some of those folk vote. For whom? For what? Informed? How? About what?
I see only two things that can improve the quality of our political leaders. First is an educated electorate that knows the candidates, the issues and stays involved with what’s happening politically on a regular basis.
The second is identifying and electing better candidates to replace many of the current litter. Too many good people don’t want to take time from their career, put their own lives or their families on hold or suffer the mindless criticism that often goes with the job. We need quality men and women to step up. We’ve got a few but not enough.
Term limiting is one of those quick fix ideas that sounds good but doesn’t hold up to full examination. It’s an ineffective band-aid when surgery is what’s needed. Educating citizens would be more effective. And finding those better candidates is absolutely necessary.
If we can’t find enough, we may have to breed ‘em.