photo credit: ultra-K

A commonly proposed solution to reduce the amount of corruption in Washington is to impose term limits on officeholders, thereby theoretically minimizing the amount of damage one corrupt politician can cause. The argument goes that incumbents often have an unfair advantage with a large war chest, a strong network of contacts, and other advantages that create a hurdle for would-be challenges to have a legitimate shot at winning an election against them.

Frankly, I believe term limits are a major cop-out—an excuse promoted to justify a dereliction of one’s duty.

The imposition of term limits is an artificial restraint to force a continual rotation of elected officials, thus removing the need for people to be actively engaged in participating in a campaign to win on merit alone. It ignores the collateral damage of ending a true statesman’s service prematurely, and incorrectly considers all congressmen to be like cow’s milk—short shelf life, firm expiration date.

By removing the incentive of possible re-election, you also remove an unstated restraint on immoral behavior. Essentially, a congressman who knows he is being “let go” at the end of his term is much like the guy at the office who has given his two weeks’ notice. Both lack a drive to work hard and external motive to refrain from behavior or actions that they otherwise would not have indulged in.

Proponents of term limits either casually forget or conveniently ignore the fact that “We the People” are the term limits. A process is already in place for terminating a politician’s employment which has repeatedly proven effective in the past. Any initiative to supplement or supplant this electoral selection system is an affront to our method of representation which dictates that people should be able to choose whom they prefer.

Term limits are a poor prescription for the diagnosis of congressional corruption; one does not take morphine for a case of indigestion. Rather than generalizing the remedy and affecting parts of the body that are operating just fine, it is better to localize the treatment and target the offending members specifically. Those who support term limits as a means of removing from office corrupt congressmen should divert their efforts into mounting campaigns for a more worthy candidate, rather than trying to alter the system to work in their favor. The system is not broken—we are.


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