As much as I would have loved to have another four years of President Obama, I’m grateful that U.S. presidents are restricted to two terms. Those term limits protect us from a power-hungry individual grasping the reins indefinitely. Why not apply the same approach to other elected officials?
During the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings, columnist Maureen Dowd pointed out that two of the senators questioning Christine Blasey Ford about her allegations of sexual assault were present nearly 27 years ago when Anita Hill similarly made accusations against Clarence Thomas. (“Sick to Your Stomach? #MeToo,” The New York Times, Sept. 22, 2018)
The same players enacting the same play on the national stage for decades is part of the reason our Congress has become out of touch and ineffective. Insulated from meaningful political challenges, these lawmakers concentrate on consolidating power and enriching themselves and their cronies. The likes of Mitch McConnell are only too happy to condemn “entitlements” while enjoying the Rolls Royce of health care, generous pensions, and lucrative lobbying opportunities once they leave office – if they ever do.
And it’s not just Republicans who overstay their welcome in government. Here in my home state of Illinois, Democrat Mike Madigan and his cronies have had a stranglehold on the state legislature, making any meaningful reform impossible.
Mandatory term limits on all elected offices would make government more of a public service than the cushy career it has become. If government officials were only allowed to serve a certain number of years, we taxpayers could forgo paying them costly pensions for life once they left public office. Instead, they could be given a one time bonus to thank them for serving the public and then be forced to return to the private sector to support themselves the way the majority of Americans do.
Along with term limits, we need stricter rules about former officials’ ability to join lobbying organizations once they leave office. Such rules would help prevent our government officials from being beholden to special interests, and their legislative or executive decisions would be based upon their own values and those of their constituencies.
People will argue that there is already a system of term limits in America: the ability to vote these “lifers” out. This argument ignores the strong advantage of incumbency in elections. It’s hard enough to get even a sizable minority of Americans to vote, much less put in the effort required to determine which candidates are best. Most people rely on default – voting for the guy (or gal) whose name they already know.
Both Democrats and Republicans have been decrying the lack of actual governing by our elected leaders. Gridlock in Washington, as well as in many states, has left Americans cynical and fatalistic about politics. Perhaps this is one of the reasons so few people even bother to go to the polls and vote.
On November 6, Americans have the opportunity to change the face of Congress and state and local legislatures, as well as executive offices such as governor and mayor. Maybe we should start electing candidates who favor mandatory term limits in government. It would be a step toward revitalizing our democracy and encouraging young Americans to see public service as just that.