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Lieberman Backs Term Limits For Senators on Way Out of Senate

Joe Lieberman has had a change of heart on term limits:

Retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) told WFSB-TV that it is time for sweeping changes in the way the United States chooses its leaders and said he supports the elimination of the electoral college and supports term limits for his colleagues in the Senate.

Said Lieberman: “My position on this has changed. Some say there are term limits for senators every six years and it is up to voters to decide. When I started here (24 years ago) I was 99th in seniority, and now I am 20th, so it does change, but needs to change more often… I think it would make the senate less partisan and healthier if it turned over more often.”

Now, I happen to concur. While there’s something to be said for experience, there’s a tendency for Senators to get re-elected well into their 80s and 90s precisely because their seniority makes them powerful enough to bring lots of goodies home.

But I’m reminded of a line from one of Lieberman’s junior colleagues, Al Franken, from the days when he was a writer and occasional player on Saturday Night Live. When draft registration was being reinstated during the Carter administration, Franken had a bit where he argued for the advantages of the system that included something along the lines of “Back when I was young and stupid, I opposed the draft. Now that I’m older and wiser . . . ” The joke, of course, being that Franken was now old enough not to be eligible to be drafted.

While it’s true that Lieberman still has 20 colleagues more senior to him as he approaches involuntary retirement, he’s benefited enormously from the seniority system. He has for quite a number of years wielded outsize power as a committee chairman.

Additionally, it’s safe to say, Lieberman would gladly have served a fifth term had he not become a pariah after winning his fourth term as a sore loser candidate.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Lieberman, who got term limited out by his own party and refused to consent to it, now wants it forced on others. There is a reason I find this man to be among the most loathsome creatures in DC.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 39 Thumb down 1

  2. Geek, Esq. says:

    Even when he makes sense, he’s still obnoxious and hypocritical.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 1

  3. edmond says:

    Just go away, Joe. Just go away.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    The situation is actually even worse in the House. Gerrymandering and the realities of fundraising work synergistically to ensure that the most extreme members are the most senior and the committee system gives them the most power.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 0

  5. MarkedMan says:

    Lieberman. So help me god, I wanted him to run again just to have the pleasure of voting against that spineless fool. That alone would have made moving to CT worth it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  6. de stijl says:

    Sanctimonious to the bitter end. Who could have predicted that holier-than-thou Joe would take take such a good for thee, but not for me position at the end of his Senate career?

    Rampant Broderism on his way out the door? I’m shocked!

    kthxbai, Joe

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  7. C. Clavin says:

    So he sucked on the teet of Government for 24 years…but now it’s not such a good idea? Inherent in that is everything that is wrong with our Government. And we’re worried about the 47%??? Let’s get rid of the moochers like him and Boehner and Ryan and Leahy and on and on and on.

    I live in Connecticut and this guy is a f’ing clown.
    I would vote for Linda McMahon before I ever voted for him…and it would be a cold day in hell when I voted for her.
    Lieberman is an embarrasment.
    It was a great day when he realized he was through. Now if only his butt-buddy’s, McCain and Graham, would come to the same realization.
    America would be better off without them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    The situation is actually even worse in the House.

    You got that right.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  9. Brummagem Joe says:

    Additionally, it’s safe to say, Lieberman would gladly have served a fifth term had he not become a pariah after winning his fourth term as a sore loser candidate.

    Yep late conversions on the road to Damascus are something of a Lieberman thing

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  10. Scott F. says:

    @Geek, Esq.:

    It’s a shame that the toxicity of the messenger poisons a valid message.

    Incumbency is far too advantaged in the current system. One can not understate the massive disconnect between a Congressional approval rate of 18% and a Congressional re-election rate of 90%. A representative government that does not fear the voters can not be good for our democracy.

    I don’t know that term limits are the answer, but something should be done to even the playing field. Lieberman is a schmuck, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t correct when he says that a Senate (and House) that turned over more often would be healthier for the body politic.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  11. Ernieyeball says:

    I am going to assume that this post is about term limits as much as it is about Sen. Lieberman.
    I state again that Constitutionally imposed term limits restrict citizens political freedom.
    The voters of Illinois elected Paul Simon to a seat in the US House of Representatives for 5 terms because they wanted him there and they had the political freedom to do so.
    Apparently term limit advocates do not think that the electors (myself included) who sent him to Washington were not smart enough to make that decision for themselves and should have had their political freedom regulated to force Mr. Simon off the ballot.
    Just how far down the the political ladder will these term limits be imposed? Will there be Federal directives to curtail the terms of state and local candidates?
    I do recall that about 30 years ago some candidates for the State Legislature in Missouri ran and won advocating for term limits for their own offices. Several elections later some of them were still assembling in Jefferson City having been voted in multiple times. When asked what happened to their term limit pledges they said they could better serve their constituents by staying in office.
    I have searched high and low for the names and dates of these Term Limit Tramps but I can not find a link. I am relying on my fading memory.
    Apparently the voters in Marion, Illinois don’t know whats good for them either as they have returned Bob Butler to City Hall as Mayor since 1963.
    I also remember that as President Regan approached the end of his second term more than a few political sages thought it would be a great idea to repeal the 22nd Amendment so he could run again.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  12. James Joyner says:

    @Ernieyeball: The rational for term limits isn’t about the effectiveness of given officeholders but of the institution. Sure, West Virginians were happy to have Robert Byrd in office for decades to steal money from the public treasury, paving every square inch of the place with monuments to himself. It just happens to be bad for the country to create an oligarchy of geriatrics.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 4

  13. Franklin says:

    An easy compromise, perhaps, would be consecutive term limits. That is, you can’t serve more than two terms in a row. I think that would be nice, because at least the people would get to sample someone new for awhile and be forced to think about which one was better. The bigger benefit might be that the senator wouldn’t necessarily spend all his time fundraising during the second term.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  14. michael reynolds says:

    I have always opposed term limits. But if Joe Scarborough can see the light on assault weapons, I can change, too.

    Three terms (18 years) for Senate, six (12 years) for House.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  15. C. Clavin says:

    Yes…term limits…definitely. Lieberman is right…24 years later…which proves the broken clock dictum.
    Ryan, for instance, has never done anything besides mooch off the Government. He even sleeps in his Government office. I’m sure there are Democrats who are guilty of similar.
    They go to Washington to work for the people in their State…then they end up working for their own self-interest.
    Now…how exactly do you get the lazy moochers to cut themselves off from their Sugar Daddy?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  16. C. Clavin says:

    @ Michael Reynolds…
    I watched that this morning.
    I hate to be cynical…but it’s a shame it had to take the death of 20 babies for Scarbourough to wake the f’ up. Maybe if he hadn’t been such a butt boy to the NRA when he was in office he wouldn’t feel so guilty. I wouldn’t be suprised if that was the opening speech of his 2016 Presidential Campaign
    The NRA and Norquist…Republicans fall all over themselves to fellate them…consequences be damned.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  17. Gustopher says:

    @Scott F.: the abysmally low approval ratings are for congress in general, not for individual congress critters. People tend to approve of their congress critters well above the rest of them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  18. Gustopher says:

    I don’t even like term limits for President. Why restrict the voters choices? Why assume the voters will make the wrong choices?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  19. Ernieyeball says:

    @James Joyner: So I guess if we can restrict citizens political freedom and impose term limits on voters “for the effectiveness of the institution”…we can restrict citizens “right to bear arms” to prevent the massacre of 6 and 7 year old school children.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  20. michael reynolds says:

    @C. Clavin:

    I’ve long believed that the essential defining characteristic of the conservative mind is an absence of imagination. It explains why they don’t work in creative fields. It explains why one has to discover a gay daughter before realizing that gays are human. It explains why they can’t really see how abortion could be necessary until a family member is raped. Why they can’t see black people as fully equal, why they can’t imagine needing help, why they can’t imagine being homeless or sick. Why they can’t bring themselves to believe that the climate is changing, or that the elites won’t always be the elites, or that people of different religions are also nuanced, fully-formed human beings.

    They can’t imagine, period. They require the concrete event to show the possibility. By which point it is frequently too late. And a single case, like Columbine, isn’t enough because they can dismiss it as a one-off, like it will never happen again and cannot ever be worse. I happened to be listening to a history podcast that made an important point. When the Mongols first hit the Christian and Muslim worlds, shattered them and then went away, these western folks responded by treating it as a one-off. It would never happen again, and it certainly wouldn’t be worse. So they made no preparation. And of course it did happen again, and it was far worse. Lack of imagination.

    Joe Scarborough could not imagine that a man with an assault rifle would murder 20 little kids. As he explains, it’s because Newtown is close to where he lives, it’s because he, too, has kids that age. So now, now that it requires so little imagination, he can finally get it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 2

  21. wr says:

    @Ernieyeball: “I also remember that as President Regan approached the end of his second term more than a few political sages thought it would be a great idea to repeal the 22nd Amendment so he could run again”

    Although I agree with you about term limits, Reagan is actually the best argument the other side has. A third term? He was already practically a vegetable at the end of his second. “Oh, I signed something granting permission for member of my administration to commit acts of treason in order to give arms to a bunch of murderous thugs working to overthrow a democratically elected government? Oops, I forgot…”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  22. wr says:

    @James Joyner: ” It just happens to be bad for the country to create an oligarchy of geriatrics”

    Exactly. The only oligarchy we want is the one created by transferring the country’s wealth from the workers to a handful of owners.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

  23. Just Me says:

    I would rather just remove the retirement and other benefits. I think politicians would be less likely to turn congress into a career if they had to put aside their own retirement and foot the bill for the medicare supplements.

    I am not a fan of career politicians-I think they often become too entrenched and are more likely to become corrupted by the system although I am not convinced there should be imposed term limits.

    But spending 40 years in congress doesn’t necessarily create a good politicians and in general I think some of the worst are those who have super safe seats and win elections year after year after year.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  24. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @michael reynolds:

    But if Joe Scarborough can see the light on assault weapons,

    Just watched that. The sad thing is it will mean more coming from him. It shouldn’t, because where the truth comes from is beside the point, but it will.

    Like you tho, I say good for him.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  25. rudderpedals says:

    I have mixed feelings about term limitations because of the reason cited above (restricting my choice) and also because it cheapens the office and I think it would tend to encourage candidates to run in order to spiffy up future prospects with big money commercial interests as the limits kick the candidate out the revolving door.

    I am certain that Lieberman is pretty much the worst term limit advocate that could be found in that it would take a modern day Cincinnattus to move this issue, and there aren’t any because the Roman Republic is dead.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  26. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Joe Scarborough could not imagine that a man with an assault rifle would murder 20 little kids.

    Apparently Joe Scarborough had never heard of My Lai.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  27. stonetools says:

    I’m for age limits, not term limits. I don’t think anyone should serve as a representative or a judge
    past the age of 75.
    Yes, I know there have been great legislators and judges who have been older than that, but I bet most decline after that point. Its biology.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  28. Barry says:

    @Just Me: “I would rather just remove the retirement and other benefits. I think politicians would be less likely to turn congress into a career if they had to put aside their own retirement and foot the bill for the medicare supplements.”

    I have mixed feelings – if I could void their lifetime healthcare, I would, but nixing the pension would probably just lead to them needing more rich ‘friends’ to take care them post-office.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  29. Scott F. says:

    @Gustopher: I understand that for a great number of people, the problem is the other representatives, not their own. I don’t think that changes the argument.

    Congress, as an institution, is widely held to be grossly dysfunctional, yet the power of incumbency (the main thing that keeps people happy with their congress critter) keeps the people within the institution fundamentally the same. What possible route to improved functionality do you see?

    The results speak for themselves.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  30. Sejanus says:

    @michael reynolds: Why should Congressmen have a shorter term limit than Senators?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  31. Ernieyeball says:

    OK everyone. Put your money where your mouth is.
    It’s time to petition 2/3 of the members of both Houses in Congress to propose an Amendment to institute term limits on themselves.
    Or better yet “on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, (the Congress) shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments,”
    Personally I like the Convention approach since we can then apply term limits, abolish the Electoral College and fix the 2nd Amendment all at once.
    Of course we could also impose a National Religon, eliminate the Income Tax and institute ex post facto laws…but who would want to do any of that?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  32. Ernieyeball says:

    @wr: He was already practically a vegetable at the end of his second.

    No. Ketchup was a vegetable. Reagan was a lunatic.

    “If it takes a bloodbath, let’s get it over with.”
    Ronald Reagan, April 7th, 1970
    Governor of California & soon-to-be US President,
    on his attitude towards student civil rights activists,
    dissenters, & Vietnam War protestors

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  33. Dale Dawson says:

    @MarkedMan: WHICH ‘spineless fool?’ There are SO MANY OF THEM representing themselves in Washington.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  34. Andre Kenji says:

    No, Term Limits for the Legislative are a bad idea(That´s why this is a obsession among Movement Conservatives). Novice legislators are much more dependent from their staff to perform their Legislative duties, and experienced Legislators are much less dependent from their parties, money and national organizations to get elected. It´s much easier for a Experienced Legislator to be elected in a State or District where his party is the minority(That´s one of the reasons why there were so many GOP Senators from the Northeast and so many Dem Senators from the South in the 80´s) and to cast difficult, but necessary votes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  35. Rob in CT says:

    We will finally be rid of him. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out, Joe.

    As for term limits: I really am torn. I could argue either side of this one.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  36. gVOR08 says:

    I have watched this game long enough to be thoroughly amused by Republicans’ enthusiasm for term limits when they were the minority and flagging enthusiasm as they became the majority.

    The problem isn’t term limits or lack thereof. The problem is the money and the lobbyists. Everything else is pissing around the edges. Without AIPAC etc. even Lieberman might not have turned into a total asshat.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  37. al-Ameda says:

    I believe that the current group of House Republicans is, by the very fact of its existence, a strong argument in favor of Term Limits.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  38. Andre Kenji says:

    @al-Ameda:

    I believe that the current group of House Republicans is, by the very fact of its existence, a strong argument in favor of Term Limits.

    No, it´s not. Some of the most reasonable House Republicans are experienced Legislators(Steve LaTourette, Chris Smith, for stance) and most newcomers(Like the class of 2010) are horrible.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1