Term Limits Only A Partial Solution To The Problems Plaguing Congress

Congressional term limits are a good idea, but they are only a partial solution at best and may not be the best solution to the problems facing our political system.

United States Capitol Building, Washington, D.C. Aerial

Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Florida Congressman Ron DeSantis announced late last week that they would be introducing parallel bills in the House and Senate to impose term limits on members of the House and Senate:

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) say they want to help President-elect Donald Trump “drain the swamp” by imposing congressional term limits.

The two conservative lawmakers said in a Washington Post op-ed Friday they plan to introduce a constitutional amendment next month to limit members of Congress to three terms in the House and two in the Senate.

The legislative proposal from Cruz, Trump’s former rival for the presidential nomination, and DeSantis, a former Senate candidate and member of the House Freedom Caucus, reflects a call from Trump late in the campaign to impose term limits.

“We believe that the rise of political careerism in modern Washington is a drastic departure from what the founders intended of our federal governing bodies. To effectively ‘drain the swamp,’ we believe it is past time to enact term limits for Congress,” Cruz and DeSantis wrote. The pair argues that imposing term limits would help prevent stagnation on Capitol Hill.

“Without term limits, the incentive for a typical member is to stay as long as possible to accumulate seniority on the way to a leadership post or committee chair. Going along to get along is a much surer path for career advancement than is challenging the way Washington does business,” Cruz and DeSantis wrote.

“With term limits, we will have more frequent changes in leadership and within congressional committees, giving reformers a better chance at overcoming the Beltway inertia that resists attempts to reduce the power of Washington.”

But the push to impose term limits is unlikely to go anywhere. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said shortly after the election that Trump’s term limit proposal won’t be on the chamber’s agenda.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said he supports term limits, but wouldn’t commit to bringing up the proposal for a vote.

Under the measure outlined by Trump, as well as Cruz and DeSantis, both Ryan and McConnell would be forced out of their posts. McConnell has served in the Senate since 1985, while Ryan has been in the House for nearly 18 years.

Here’s how Cruz and DeSantis put it in their Op-Ed:

Passing term limits will demonstrate that Congress has actually heard the voice of the people.

In an age in which partisan divisions seem intractable, it is remarkable that public support for congressional term limits is strong regardless of political affiliation — huge majorities of rank-and-file Republicans, Democrats and independents favor enacting this reform. Indeed, according to a Rasmussen survey conducted in October, 74 percent of likely voters support establishing term limits for all members of Congress. This is because the concept of a citizen legislature is integral to the model of our democratic republic.

Though our Founding Fathers declined to include term limits in the Constitution, they feared the creation of a permanent political class that existed parallel to, rather than enmeshed within, American society. As Benjamin Franklin said, “In free governments, the rulers are the servants, and the people their superiors. . . . For the former therefore to return among the latter was not to degrade but to promote them.”

We believe that the rise of political careerism in modern Washington is a drastic departure from what the founders intended of our federal governing bodies. To effectively “drain the swamp,” we believe it is past time to enact term limits for Congress.

The American people have lost confidence in Washington. Enmeshed in backroom deals and broken promises, our capital has become a political playground for the powerful and well-connected, for members of the permanent political class looking to accumulate more and more power at the expense of taxpayers. The Washington Cartel is hard at work picking winners and losers, with hard-working Americans typically winding up as the losers.

Term limits will change the calculus of those who serve in Congress.

Without term limits, the incentive for a typical member is to stay as long as possible to accumulate seniority on the way to a leadership post or committee chair. Going along to get along is a much surer path for career advancement than is challenging the way Washington does business.

The American people have offered Republicans an opportunity to enact meaningful change. They have rejected the status quo and put the Washington elites on notice that they will no longer accept the old way of doing business.

It is well past time to put an end to the cronyism that has transformed Washington into a graveyard of good intentions. Favors for the political elite have gone on for far too long. In Washington, where corruption and collusion abound, entrenched politicians live fat and happy cutting deals and breaking promises, while those who don’t oblige are shunned. Congressional term limits are critical to stopping the ongoing abuse by D.C. insiders.

The time is now for Congress, with the overwhelming support of the American people, to pass a constitutional amendment establishing congressional term limits and send it to the states for speedy ratification. With control of a decisive majority of the states, the executive branch, the House of Representatives and the Senate, the Republican Party has the responsibility to respond to the voters’ call to action. We must, and we can, deliver.

In the past, see here and here for example, I’ve been generally supportive of the idea of Congressional Term Limits. In an era where Congressional seats have effectively become permanent job positions for legislators who have clearly lost touch with their constituents and where they are using their power and influence to increase their own wealth and that of their friends and family, it’s difficult not to favor the idea of limiting how long a Congressman or Senator can serve in office, or at least prevent them from holding office for life, which has has effectively been the case with legislators such as the late West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, Senator Orrin Hatch, and many other Federal legislators who held on to their seats for decades at a time, usually without facing any serious challenges. The classic example of this, of course, is Michigan Congressman John Dingell, the recently retired “Dean of the House,” who served in his seat continuously from 1955 to 2017. Dingell effectively inherited his seat from his father, who had served in Congress from 1933 to 1955. Dingell was succeeded by his wife after the 2014  election, meaning that the same family has held what effectively amounts to the same Congressional seat for the past eighty-three years. At the same time, though, term limits are only part of the solution if the result of removing someone who has held office for an extended period of time ends up bringing into office someone who isn’t much different, who is also there mainly to enrich themselves and their family and friends, and who spends more time catering to lobbyists than representing their constituents.

Additionally, there is a danger to term limits that the Cruz/DeSantis argument doesn’t address, and which I’ve found somewhat persuasive. Specifically, it’s been suggested by many opponents of term limits that placing term limits on members of the House and Senate would grant too much power to staff members who have experience working on Capitol Hill and are more familiar with how things work than their bosses. While that is true, however, this argument seems to ignore the fact that it is ultimately the Congressman or Senator who casts votes in committee and on the floor, not staff members. Additionally, if the term limits are made long enough, then this problem likely won’t arise. In the past, I’ve suggested a limit of twenty-four years, which amounts to four terms for Senators and twelve for members of Congress. That seems like more than enough for any man or woman.

One argument against term limits that I’ve made myself at times is more persuasive, it’s the case that we already have term limits and they’re called elections. If the public wanted to get rid of a long-term incumbent, they have that opportunity every two to six years. The fact that they don’t, arguably, is an indication that they are fine with the job this particular incumbent is doing. While this is persuasive on some theoretical level, it doesn’t really work this way in the real world. For one thing, the value of long-term incumbency is well-known and well-documented. In election after election, the vast number of incumbents running for re-election are easily re-elected regardless of what kind of a job they are doing. In November’s elections, for example, all but two of the Senators and all but a handful of Congressmen who were running for re-election held on to their office. If anything, this problem has only gotten worse in recent years. There are many reasons for this, including the fact that swing districts in the House and swing states in the Senate are far less common than they used to be. As long as this is the case, the electoral process alone simply isn’t going to be sufficient to make Congressional races more competitive and, perhaps, make the drastic change that term limits would entail less necessary. Until then, the “elections are term limits” argument rings hollow.

Despite the arguments in favor of Congressional term limits, though, the odds that we’ll actually get there anytime soon are fairly low.

Beyond the merits of the case, the odds that we’ll actually see an amendment to the Constitution limiting Congressional terms is exceedingly small. Before the proposed amendment could be sent to the states, it would need to garner a two-thirds vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, which would be difficult in and of itself. Even assuming that the GOP Caucuses in both houses were united in favor of the idea, which is by no means certain, this would still require significant crossover voting from Democrats. In the House of Representatives, it would require 290 votes in favor of the amendment, meaning that 49 Democrats would need to join the 241 Republicans in supporting the amendment. In the Senate, it would mean that 15 Democrats would need to join 52 Republicans in support of the amendment. Any defections from Republican ranks in either House would mean that one additional Democrat would have to cross party lines to support the proposed amendment. This seems like something that’s unlikely to happen anytime in the foreseeable future.

Even if the proposed amendment were to get through Congress successfully, it’s success at the state level is by no means certain. Pursuant to Article V of the Constitution, 38 of the 50 states would need to ratify the Amendment within whatever time limit, if any, that Congress might set. Beginning in 2017, Republicans will control both houses of the state legislature in 32 of the 50 states, and control at least one chamber in an additional five. (Source) While this might seem like a number that would make ratification easy, it may not be as simple as it appears. First of all, it can’t be guaranteed that every legislature that is Republican controlled will remain so by the time the amendment makes it to the states. Each loss would make the process more difficult. Second, it seems unlikely that every state where the GOP controls the legislature would be united on the issue of Congressional term limit limits, although one could argue that state legislators might support term limits on Congress simply because it would increase the chances that they would be able to advance to national office at the expiration of a national incumbent’s time in office. Finally, even falling a handful of states short doesn’t guarantee eventual ratification, as the advocates of the Equal Rights Amendment learned in the 1970’s. If the proposed amendment has a time limit similar to the one the ERA had, it could spend years in limbo in the states before expiring only a handful of states short.

In response to all of this, advocates for term limits are likely to point to polling showing that Americans strongly back term limits for Congress in support of their argument. While this polling appears to be accurate in terms of the measurement of public support for the idea, though, it does not show that opposition to term limits is something that politicians would pay a significant political price for in a future election. First of all, voting against term limits hasn’t proven fatal to politicians in the past notwithstanding public support for the idea. Second, it’s not at all clear that this is an issue that the public considers highly important compared to issues such as national security and the economy. As long as that’s the case, the level of public support for the idea isn’t likely to change the likely outcome in either Congress or the states at any time in the near future.

Even if we could amend the Constitution easily and pass term limits, though, that won’t completely solve the problems facing our political system.

There’s no doubt that there is plenty that is presently wrong with how Washington, D.C. operates. Indeed, one would need to be willfully blind to argue that there are no problems there and that long-term incumbency, along with hyper-partisanship and other issues, is one of the reasons that this is the case. At the same time, though, it’s going to take more than one change to fix those problems, and it’s not at all clear that term limits are anywhere near being the cure-all that advocates for the idea claim they are. This is due to many factors, but two of the most fundamental are perhaps the most important. First of all, redistricting has devolved even in states where the process is supposed to be “nonpartisan” has devolved into a process where Congressional Districts are redrawn to protect incumbents to near scientific certainty. While recent Supreme Court decisions would seem to give states more power to take the redistricting process out of the hands of partisan forces, it will take some time, and perhaps more than one decennial cycle, to determine if these changes are even close to sufficient in making Congressional Districts more competitive. Second, I’ve become more and more persuaded by the argument made by OTB’s Steven Taylor and others that the first-past-the-post voting system needs to be reconsidered in light of the lack of competitive elections in many parts of the country. Whether it’s Instant Runoff Voting or one of the many other proposed alternatives, I’d like to see one or more of the states try alternative election methods to see how they work.  More importantly, it would arguably be easier to implement these and other potential solutions to the problem of non-competitive elections than it would be to pass term limits. The former require nothing more than legislative majorities in a handful of states willing to experiment with new ideas. The latter, as I noted, requires a Constitutional amendment that is unlikely to pass. If we can find ways short of term limits to make elections more representative and competitive, then it will benefit everyone, and term limits won’t be necessary.

FILED UNDER: Politics 101, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Slugger says:

    I am sure that everybody has their own list of things that are wrong with Congress. Mine includes the acrimonious spirit of party where the ascendancy of the party becomes more important than the general good in exactly the manner that George Washington warned. I fear that increasing the turnover rate will increase the number of strict party line Congressmen since they won’t have a chance to develop independent ideas partly because under our current system their reelection is assured.

  2. Jeremy says:

    Cato Unbound’s issue this month is all about Instant Runoff Voting and other alternative voting systems. I personally prefer Approval Voting, as it’s far simpler than IRV and harder to tactically game, as well as for other reasons explained in the latest essay:

    https://www.cato-unbound.org/2016/12/09/jason-sorens/false-promise-instant-runoff-voting

  3. al-Ameda says:

    Congressional Term Limits is a delusion that many of us (we The People) entertain every time we’re extremely frustrated with the system.

    We have Congressional Term Limits right now – it’s called a popular vote (an election) every 2 years and 4 years respectively. Voters want a magic bullet, and there is none, plus voters don’t see themselves as part of the problem at all, which they most certainly are. The re-election rate in the House this past November was 97%. We know why .. people like their party, their elected Representative.

  4. Pch101 says:

    As a junior senator, Ted Cruz wants to clear senior people out of his way so that he can lead the more gullible Republicans and steamroll over the inexperienced Democrats who replace them. He doesn’t want to drain the swamp, he wants to be the swamp.

  5. Mr. Bluster says:

    test

  6. Mr. Bluster says:

    The quick red fox jumped over the lazy brown dog

  7. Gustopher says:

    When we then get legislators with less experience drafting legislation, won’t this just increase the influence of the lobbyists and staff?

    I think that if we want a more responsive and representative democracy, we have to go after the gerrymandering of legislative districts. Also, we don’t really need two Dakotas, but I don’t see a way to redraw state lines.

  8. MarkedMan says:

    Indeed, one would need to be willfully blind to argue that there are no problems there and that long-term incumbency, along with hyper-partisanship and other issues, is one of the reasons that this is the case.

    Doug, you actually conflate three things here. I agree with the first (problems in the Senate) and the third (hyper-partisanship). But that idea that I’m ‘willing fully blind’ because I don’t think long term incumbancy is a problem is just hyperbole and arm waving on your part.

    I could refute this in a number of ways. For example it’s worth noting that the young Republicans are almost uniformly idiots, and that the long term incumbents are the ones that have stopped them from driving the US government into default. I’m tempted to say that the best proof of the harm this idea can wreak is that Ted Cruz favors it.

    It seems you take it as a priori that long terms inevitably lead to corruption, bad actions and bad judgement. And that, when it comes to politics and politics alone, going into the family business is somehow nefarious and not natural. I think both of these views are naive and wrong. And it’s not because I am willfully blind to their truth.

  9. Ratufa says:

    Given how much difficulty Congress has in accomplishing basic tasks, such as passing a budget, it seems odd to blame the problems with Congress on backroom deals and incumbency. Backroom deals are how political negotiations work. Seniority, a product of incumbency, and the power that used to come with seniority helped drive such deals, back when Congress was less gridlocked.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/07/how-american-politics-went-insane/485570/

    Cruz is one of the people that Jonathan Rauch, in the above article, is describing when he says:

    The Senate, meanwhile, is tied in knots by wannabe presidents and aspiring talk-show hosts, who use the chamber as a social-media platform to build their brands by obstructing—well, everything

  10. "What Me Worry?" says:

    The way some people talk about term limits one could conclude that they will cure all political ills and the common cold.
    If there were no term limits on President USA I might have had the opportunity to vote a third time for Barack Obama. The Republicans made sure my political freedom to cast that ballot was denied by getting Amendment 22 ratified in the year before I was born.
    Thanks for nothing Republicans…again.

  11. "What Me Worry?" says:

    Fifteen States currently have legislative term limits of varying durations. If anyone can demonstrate that the bills passed through these chambers are measurably wiser or more efficient I will consider that limits will be useful at the Federal level.
    If these two members of the United States Congress want to “drain the swamp” they can both resign today.

  12. Pete S says:

    It is not a coincidence that Republicans seem to be the party pushing term limits these days. If your working assumption is that government is bad, then governing is not a useful skill. Any loudmouth yahoo can come into office and just burn things down.

    Of course the party that just nominated Donald Trump will assume that theft and corruption are part of governing. It is kind of sad that Republicans cannot conceive of a politician getting into politics for any reason other than just to enrich themselves. Maybe some of them need to take a look in the mirror. I am not saying that there have never been corrupt Democrats, far from it, but Democrats can at least picture a purpose to being in government other than greed.

  13. dxq says:

    Would you have term limits on physicists? Or fiction writers? Or carpenters?

  14. MarkedMan says:

    Wow, Doug. There sure are a lot of ‘willfully blind’ people on this thread…

  15. dxq says:

    Term limits are the idiotic idea that this is somehow the one job where experience makes you worse.

  16. Scott says:

    @Slugger:

    . Mine includes the acrimonious spirit of party where the ascendancy of the party becomes more important than the general good in exactly the manner that George Washington warned.

    @Gustopher:

    I think that if we want a more responsive and representative democracy, we have to go after the gerrymandering of legislative districts.

    I think the answer is closer to this. The gerrymandering has greatly reduced accountability for behavior and actions because there are no consequences. I don’t think term limits will help this situation. You would be just swapping out one ideologue for another

  17. MBunge says:

    A big problem is simply the mindset that progress or evolution in government leads only to bigger and more centralized authority. Maybe we should be taking advantage of technological and economic change to genuinely devolve authority to regional and local government structure, with federal oversight to prevent localized corruption.

    Mike

  18. dxq says:

    You think the dim-bulbs on my city council can do environmental analyses better then the EPA?

  19. Kylopod says:

    I’d take term limits in a heartbeat for a national popular vote replacing the electoral college. Deal?

  20. "What Me Worry?" says:

    @Gustopher:..we don’t really need two Dakotas, but I don’t see a way to redraw state lines.

    Why would we want to do that? Don’t be messing with 5 Corners!

    I shall stand in one state, fire a gun in a second state. The bullet will travel through the third. Hitting you in the forth so you fall dead in the fifth. No single act is against any law.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IG2_cI5ZYrM

  21. C. Clavin says:

    Currently scientists are racing to copy Government climate change data onto private servers because they are afraid that team Trump will delete it.
    The incoming head of the EPA has asked for a list of the names of Energy Department staffers who were engaged in climate policy under the Obama administration.
    We have bigger issues than term limits….just sayin’

  22. Davebo says:

    @al-Ameda:

    We have Congressional Term Limits right now – it’s called a popular vote (an election) every 2 years and 4 years respectively.

    Actually every 2 years and 6 years.

  23. al-Ameda says:

    @Davebo:

    Actually every 2 years and 6 years.

    Yes, thanks. I caught that too late to correct.
    I guess I get a Bachmann or a Palin for that?

    Or … I can do a Trump, and go “WRONG!”

  24. C. Clavin says:

    @C. Clavin:
    Right out of Joe McCarthy’s playbook…
    Dark days are upon the Republic.

  25. Slugger says:

    @Gustopher: I agree with this. At present, very few laws are written by dispassionate Solons thinking about the general good nor are they written by social planners out of a Hayekian nightmare. Most are made by staff with heavy input from lobbyists,resulting in regulatory capture. Having lots of rookies will not solve this.

  26. Lit3Bolt says:

    Term limits are great for corporations and lobbyists who simply need rubes to rubber stamp legislation and take the heat for it while they dance away, laughing.

    The stupidity of the voting electorate at large should dissuade any dreamy idealist of term limits. The nation of citizen-legislator-philosopher-kings that the idea requires does not exist.

    But for libertarians like Doug, corporations are holy and blameless.

  27. dxq says:

    I shall stand in one state, fire a gun in a second state. The bullet will travel through the third. Hitting you in the forth so you fall dead in the fifth. No single act is against any law.

    I’m sure that sounds clever so some people, but I’m pretty sure one or two jurisdictions would figure out how to charge you.

  28. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    There are risks and problems with term limits, of that there is no doubt. But do the people arguing against them think the current approach is working well and producing a functional Congress? Are the checks and balances of regular elections working well? Not from where I’m sitting. As usual there are always reasons to NOT try something different, no matter how bad the current situation is. Which is how we stay stuck.

    I would support term limits if some of the obvious (and enumerated in this thread) problems were addressed as well (and there’s no reason they couldn’t/shouldn’t be–seriously, are people arguing that the legislative branch isn’t ALREADY captured?!?!). Even if that puts me on the same side of an issue as Ted Cruz (yuck).

    A panacea? Of course not. A change of course for something that is flat out broken (I’m in the camp that figures the founding fathers never thought there would be a situation where 1/3rd of the government flat out refused to do their jobs)? Yes. Will it lead to new problems? Absolutely–but if we can get started on change, MAYBE we can make some effective ones somewhere along the way. Instead of this perpetual failure of a critical part of our government, and griping that because a fix isn’t perfect, we shouldn’t even try.

    Gerrymandering is the bigger problem (I think), but that one is apparently too complicated for the average voter to understand and try to fix. And don’t even get me started on alternate voting methods–which I’m strongly in favor of. Unfortunately I live in a county that tried instant runoff a decade ago, and voters got so confused they went back to standard voting a couple years later. A sad comment on voter intelligence, perhaps, but the ugly truth. Term Limits at least has gotten into people’s heads as something to try.

  29. michael reynolds says:

    Our problems would in no way be helped by term limits. This is more magical thinking.

    We have structural problems – the electoral college, the disproportionate influence held by insignificant states, the stranglehold of two sclerotic political parties – but none of that is helped by term limits.

    We also have voter problems – we have evidently done a very poor job of basic civic education. Just about every school district assigns Orwell’s 1984 and yet people on my left come away believing we need memory holes down which we can disappear historic personages who have fallen from favor. We teach Animal Farm but right-wing voters never figure out that they are Boxer, the horse who gets sold to the knacker to buy the upper class more booze.

    Voters are both stupid and ignorant, lazy, self-indulgent, utterly devoid of intellectual rigor. They’ve been infantilized by the culture and in our politics. My favorite punk-ska band, Rancid, has a line, “Do you know where the power lies, and who pulls the strings? Well, it starts and ends with you.” The problem starts and ends with voters.

    In fact the push for term limits implicitly acknowledges that we cannot trust voters. Rather than applying feel-good solutions that will accomplish nothing, why don’t we do the hard, grown-up thing and see if there’s a way to upgrade the voter base.

  30. Tony W says:

    Term Limits are overly simplistic and naive – it’s like the “Flat Tax” – sounds like a good idea as long as you don’t put much thought into it.

  31. Mr. Bluster says:

    Not to worry Q. He didn’t get away with it.

  32. C. Clavin says:

    @michael reynolds:

    why don’t we do the hard, grown-up thing and see if there’s a way to upgrade the voter base.

    You can’t fix stupid.

  33. Bob@Youngstown says:

    1) IMO imposition of term limits would act as an disincentive to citizens of good faith to stand for election to legislature.

    2) The test of continued faithfulness to the needs of a constituency is an evaluation performed by the citizens who grant the power to be governed at the ballot box.

    3) It has been my observation that citizens who favor term limits fall into two categories – those who want it for all Congressional districts except their own, and those who are dissatisfied that “their preferred” legislative candidate failed to win at the ballot box.

  34. Pete S says:

    @michael reynolds: This is a good point but how on earth can you fix it? Probably 80% of voters would agree with you that other voters are not smart or thoughtful enough to make good choices, how can you convince many of them that they are actually the problem? I can see voting for Donald Trump out of a cynical understanding that if you are already rich and you don’t care about your fellow humans he will work for you. But the working class or religious people who bought the con? How can you get through to them?

  35. Pete S says:

    @Just Another Ex-Republican:

    Absolutely–but if we can get started on change, MAYBE we can make some effective ones somewhere along the way. Instead of this perpetual failure of a critical part of our government, and griping that because a fix isn’t perfect, we shouldn’t even try.

    I don’t think the people who are opposed to term limits here are opposed because they are not perfect. At least for me, I am opposed because I do not see any benefit at all. Term limits can only have value if they are forcing out more bad than good legislators. We need to address the problem of getting bad legislators elected in the first place, not clearing out good ones as the only way to get rid of the bad.

  36. gVOR08 says:

    @Pete S:

    It is not a coincidence that Republicans seem to be the party pushing term limits these days.

    Republicans started pushing term limits years ago when Dems dominated both houses of congress and most states. It was purely self serving. But being conservatives, they believed their own BS. So now the idea has become a conservative shibboleth, even though they now have the majorities. Cruz and DeSantis, however, don’t seem to be taking it seriously. They’re proposing a constitutional amendment. They know that ain’t gonna happen. This is just Cruz showboating again.

    If we really want to reform congress, and politics generally, we need to remember the simple fact that MONEY is the root of all evil. Congress is dysfunctional because its Republican majorities want it to be dysfunctional. And our Republican majorities are the best congress that money could buy.

  37. Bob@Youngstown says:

    @michael reynolds: I agree, however there are many who cling to the notion that the voters are wise, that in the end the voters will make good and considered judgement.

    Therein lies perhaps the greatest challenge to a democracy – that the voting citizens can/may devolve into an emotional mob of unthinking protoplasm.

    As an aside – do you suppose that is exactly why Hamilton envisioned an Electoral College that would investigate and deliberate and judge to find the best among presidential aspirants ???

  38. Just Another Ex-Republican says:
  39. gVOR08 says:

    @Bob@Youngstown: Yes, that’s what the founders envisioned. They failed, however, to appreciate the inevitable rise of parties, which killed the idea of the EC as anything other than a rubber stamp.

    The electorate are a box of rocks*. And always have been. That’s why it falls to the parties to refrain from offering the voters dangerous choices, something Republicans have failed at.

    _________
    * I’d appreciate anyone who can remind me of the political scientist I should credit for that line.

  40. MarkedMan says:

    @Just Another Ex-Republican:

    There are risks and problems with term limits, of that there is no doubt. But do the people arguing against them think the current approach is working well

    I think there are lots of problems. I don’t think term limits solve any of them, and will make many of them worse.

  41. Tyrell says:

    Some years ago there was a candidate from this area for the U.S. House of Representatives who ran on the term limits idea. They got elected, and proceeded to get re-elected for several terms, like 20 years worth.

  42. al-Ameda says:

    @Tyrell:

    Some years ago there was a candidate from this area for the U.S. House of Representatives who ran on the term limits idea. They got elected, and proceeded to get re-elected for several terms, like 20 years worth.

    Guarantee you it was a Republican.
    Probably some guy like George Nethercutt (R-WA) who defeated Tom Foley in 1994, in large part by pledging to support term limits. Of course once ensconced in DC he changed his mind and was there until defeated ten years later.

  43. michael reynolds says:

    @Just Another Ex-Republican: @Bob@Youngstown: @Pete S:

    How?

    Damned if I know. I’m much better at spotting problems than solutions. While I’m a pretty good plotter, my books have a distinct tendency to end up with a bunch of dead people and sometimes complete societal breakdown.

    Hey, it’s what pays the bills.

    But in general, I think we need to look at schools, labor unions and media.

    Schools need to shift from teaching kids ever newer reasons to be offended or self-pitying, and get back to teaching civics and history. Civics with an emphasis on what you owe the world around you: duty, honor, integrity, all that tedious, old-fashioned stuff we Baby Boomers did such a good job ridiculing and dismissing. And real history, not a set of fables and moral lessons, but the real, hardcore reality. Those who forget history, etc…

    And we need to teach philosophy, especially basics like logic and ethics. The entire sum of recorded human knowledge is available essentially free, 24/7/365 but you have to know how to use it and people do not. They are intellectually helpless, and handing them the internet is like tossing car keys to an infant.

    Unions are the only real tool the working person has in pushing back against either business or government. Reagan managed to convince the dummies they didn’t need unions, and state GOP governments have castrated the union movement. And we see the results: management gets richer, workers get poorer. Unions are also educational institutions, they keep their members informed. We need the union movement to get an injection of Joe Hill. It’s time for workers to get impolite again. It’s time for strike-breakers to spend some time in the hospital and bosses to publicly broken.

    Nothing would draw working people back to the D’s like serious union action. Show some muscle and workers will pay attention. To do that the existing unions need to dump the lawyers and the flacks. The head of a steel worker’s union should have burns on his arms. The head of a restaurant union should be able to work a line for an eight hour shift without disgracing himself. Workers organizations should be run by workers, and they should be determined and where necessary, ruthless. You want the Walton family to take unions seriously? Burn one of their estates to the ground, beat up a few heirs and close some stores by the kinds of strikes people won’t break. Do to the .1% what the .1% has done to workers.

    One other thing I’d like to see is a neutral news source, separated from economic pressure, underwritten by corporations into a trust over which they could exert no control, along with a subscription service. Essentially the BBC, but recognizing that we can’t tax subsidize media. IIRC Fox News spends about 800 million a year. You could collect and present twice the news for that same money if you didn’t have to pay personalities 20 million a year. This news source would not compete or viewers/readers, it would exist solely as a reality check, offering straight-up, carefully-sourced, no-rush news. News collection and profit-seeking simply do not and can not ever produce truly objective news.

  44. gVOR08 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Do to the .1% what the .1% has done to workers.

    Damn straight. Unions can’t recover without political support. I’ve said before that largely abandoning unions was the dumbest thing Dems have ever done. Economically, politically, and morally stupid. Obama should have made card check a top priority, maybe above Obamacare.

  45. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    [Ted Cruz] doesn’t want to drain the swamp, he wants to be the swamp.

    Cruz and DeSantis, however, don’t seem to be taking it seriously. They’re proposing a constitutional amendment. They know that ain’t gonna happen. This is just Cruz showboating again.

    Exactly! THESE!

    * I’d appreciate anyone who can remind me of the political scientist I should credit for that line.

    While I’m positive that he didn’t say exactly “box of rocks” (they didn’t use the phrase at the time), most of the time, the sentiment can be attributed to H.L. Mencken.

  46. Sleeping Dog says:

    Since we’re into “Things I’d like to see, but ain’t gonna happen…”

    * Limitations on fund raising outside the state or district.

    * Open primaries with an instant run off provision.

    * Proportional distribution of the states Congressional seats.

    * Expand the Senate so to provide equal representation.

  47. Hal_10000 says:

    First, a pet peeve: i can’t stand the meme that “We have term limits! They’re called elections!” Incumbents have gigantic advantages over challengers even if you don’t account for safe district or gerrymandering. Term limits aren’t a cure but they shake the board up.

    Second, my only experience with term limits was in San Antonio. I lived in the periphery when they had term limits and it was a well-run city. Term limits were eventually done away with, however, because of a relentless campaign by basically every special interest in the state. All of them united in their opposition to term limits because they wanted bought politicians to stay bought. The San Antonio government repeatedly rejected efforts to do “big projects” (i.e., subsidies for rich interests to build hotels or stadiums or whatever). That refusal to run San Antonio’s economy on political favoritism ended when term limits did. Since then, I have favored term limits in every context.

  48. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @al-Ameda: My favorite part about Nethercutt was that shortly after he got to DC, he said in an interview with the hometown newspaper, that he had come to realize that he was completely wrong about term limits and could now see the advantage of holding office for as long as it was possible for him to do so. It wouldn’t be possible for him to accomplish all that he wanted to do for his constituents in a mere 4 years.

  49. Lit3Bolt says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I’m beginning to see why everyone ends up dead in your books….

    Sadly I think the rich, like their capital, are too mobile to threaten personally. The globalization and immigration and ethnic hysteria is going to get worse, which is being/will be used to divide any unity among workers. And if it doesn’t, the “global citizens” will gin up a war or another distraction.

  50. michael reynolds says:

    @Lit3Bolt:
    I said the other day that Trump will need a war, either foreign or domestic.

    The way to bring people together is not face to face but shoulder to shoulder. People with a common purpose won’t forget racial differences, but many and probably most will set it aside for the purpose at hand. We’ve fought a bunch of wars now with white and black and etc… soldiers fighting side by side.

    One of the tendencies of Democrats is to adopt ‘teacher voice.’ People don’t want a lecture, they want a cause. Hillary’s great failure is that she never offered any kind of vision of the future. People don’t get off their couches to stand there, they get off their couches to go somewhere. We’ve become a party dominated by college graduates with minimum wage workers at the bottom and not much in between.

    We should think less about tactics and more about strategy, less about presidential politics and more about grass roots. We need to think principles. We need to stand for ideas not interest groups.

    In terms of the popular vote we won the presidential election with a weak candidate running for an incumbent’s third term against a party clown who promised everyone ponies. The enemy isn’t ten feet tall and we aren’t so weak. Victory is there if we fight smart. But of course we won’t.

  51. Mr. Bluster says:

    Robert L. Butler (born January 23, 1927) is the current Mayor of Marion, Illinois, in office since 1963.

    He is the son of Homer and Eva (Clarida) Butler. His father served six years on the Marion City Council starting in the 1930s. His maternal grandfather J. H. Clarida, served as mayor of the city in the 1920s during the Bloody Williamson era.

    Butler won his 14th election for mayor on April 7, 2015, with 71.8 percent of the vote in a three-way race. He is believed to be the longest-serving Illinois mayor or village president, recently surpassing the record of his fellow Williamson County Mayor, Frank Caliper of Colp who served 52 years from 1935 to his death in 1987, and Donald Stephens of the tiny Chicago suburb of Rosemont, Illinois who served 51 years from the village’s incorporation in 1956 to his death in 2007.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_L._Butler#History_as_mayor

    How about all you term limit freaks come on down to Bloody Williamson County* in Southern Illinois and tell the voters of Marion just how stupid they have been to send Mayor Butler to City Hall every election since 1963.

    *http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/972220.Bloody_Williamson

    (Disclosure. I lived in Colp, pop 219, in the early 70’s. Ma Hatchet’s bordello was long gone but the Glass Pitcher, the black bar in town her son Junior Hatchet ran, was still open. 25cent Stag Beer on tap! Good Times!)

  52. gVOR08 says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker:

    While I’m positive that he didn’t say exactly “box of rocks” (they didn’t use the phrase at the time), most of the time, the sentiment can be attributed to H.L. Mencken.

    Appreciate the tip. But I was remembering a modern Poly Sci type. But you motivated me to dig a little. Found a note to myself, I don’t have the quote, but it was Hacker and Pierson in Winner Take All Politics. They present it as a “dirty little secret” that everybody in poly sci knows but doesn’t want to talk about.

    Apropos the smarts of voters, Sarah Kliff has a long piece at VOX. She interviewed a lot of voters in KY who depend on Obamacare and voted for Trump.

    “We all need it,” Oller told me when I asked about the fact that Trump and congressional Republicans had promised Obamacare repeal. “You can’t get rid of it.”

  53. Scott F. says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I like the cut of your jib.

    I’d just say the most important of these is a revival of strong unionism. A populace better able to think critically is vital, but massively ambitious based on our current state. Of course, a press that is objective and non-sensational is a prerequisite for a thinking populace and the path there is hard to see as well.

    But strong unionism impresses me as more attainable. I’ve always felt the only way to counterbalance the gross tilt to the rich over the last 3 decades is through cooperation of the masses. The 1% have all the means, but the 99% have the numbers. It’s time for some pitchforks to come out.

    Actually, my fervent hope is that some good could actually come out of the election of Trump. If his ultimate failure to deliver on his promises (which is inevitable since he’s promised unicorns) can be used to dispel whatever mythos that has got the lower/middle classes of the left and the lower/middle classes of the right fighting each other instead of training their sites on the moneyed classes who are taking their lunch, there may be hope for us after all.

  54. Turgid Jacobian says:

    @dxq: a virgin legislator is highly prized by a certain class of john

  55. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    Definitely interesting ideas Michael–I object to none of them except possibly the violence (and only possibly that, my primary hesitation being that violence, once unleashed, can never really be controlled, and mob violence is some of the worst).

    A lifetime ago I did some research on the history of the US K-12 system for a college project, and one of the things I was struck by was how the system was deliberately designed (among other goals) in the latter half of the 19th century to produce factory workers. Its strange to think today but that was the actual deliberate goal of many–to produce a citizenry capable of working productively in industrial factories. From the bell driven schedule to the focus on rote memorization of basic data and the 3 R’s. Today you can barely even ask the question “what is the purpose of an education” and get any sort of coherent answer at all. Its certainly not to teach people to logically evaluate an avalanche of contradictory data (nor is the workforce in need of old fashioned factory workers, even in modern factories!). Personally when I go into cranky old man mode I wish we would teach debate (as well as logic), and place a lot LESS focus on memorizing basic facts. Google has all the data, if you can only distinguish between fact and fiction. I was a History major, but the next time I need to know all the Presidents in order will be the first, and anyway, I can look it up so why keep it in my head? (why do I see Sean Connery in Last Crusade suddenly–“I wrote it down so I wouldn’t HAVE to remember it!”).

    Closest thing we have to a neutral news source is NPR, and look at all the c*** they take. I agree with you about the *need*, but I don’t see any way to get there in today’s world. Can you imagine trying to tax Fox (or otherwise get them and other corporations into paying into a trust, even as part of basic government functions) for a truly neutral news reporting source?

    Unions…sorry, I’ve had some bad experiences with them. Mostly that disconnected leadership you mentioned. In the end I felt they were screwing my fellows and I as much as the business owner was, but there was jack all anyone could do about it because the union itself had become a big business (Machinists, who are the union for a lot of small shops that feed Boeing, but if you aren’t a Boeing employee they don’t give a flying f— about you, they just take your monthly dues out and otherwise ignore you). Yeah, workers need to ally, and big business and government has set out to defang unions as much as they can, but they have a lot of self-inflicted wounds as well.

  56. Guarneri says:

    @C. Clavin:

    At least you know yourself.

  57. C. Clavin says:

    @Guarneri:
    Guarneri resorts to the “I know you are but what am I?” defense.
    What a maroon…

  58. Chris says:

    Term limits are not the answer. They would only make the bureaucrats and Congressional staffers more powerful. Creating a better system of reapportionment would help, whereby districts could not be drawn as geographical oddities and party ID was not a factor in their creation.

  59. KM says:

    @Just Another Ex-Republican :

    I’ve had some bad experiences with them. Mostly that disconnected leadership you mentioned. In the end I felt they were screwing my fellows and I as much as the business owner was, but there was jack all anyone could do about it because the union itself had become a big business

    Same here. I would say they’ve become an institution that forgot why they do what they do. Even without corrupt leadership, many unions have drifted from their logical purpose to “hammer in search of a nail” and “solidarity no matter what”.

    For instance, unions stand for their workers to prevent them from being fired. There’s a word missing from the end of that sentence – unjustly. I once consulted at a hospital who had a cafeteria worker with some serious seniority that would regularly assault other staff. Like, full on biting people and blood assault. She would get written up, firing process would start, then the union steps in. They “negotiate” it down to anger management class she would never attend and was never forced to then the cycle would start again. At least 4 union employees quit in a rage that no one was standing up for them before the problem crossed my desk. My solution? I called the freaking police and had her arrested on the spot when the next victim was taken to the ER. Seems no one had ever done that before since the union and hospital had convinced everyone to keep it all “in-house”. Union had a fit but the law’s the law and its kinda hard to hold down your job when you’re in a cell. Once the flurry of lawsuits from the assaulted workers started, they realized she was costing them too much and backed off actively supporting her. Bye bye violent coworker, hello safer workplace.

    Unions work when workers realize it’s not a cash cow job or a get-out-of-jail free pass for bad behavior. They are designed to protect you from management ruining your life for the lulz, not cover your butt when you ruin yours. Every worker is entitled to protection in the workplace and sometimes that means the union has to drive out one of its own when they are the problem.

  60. Chris says:

    @MBunge: Centralization and decentralization is the pendulum of pointless change in government. What we need in more checks and balances and a clear mission for each government agency.

  61. MarkedMan says:

    I agree unions are a necessity. I disagree that the Dems “abandoned” the unions. Rather, there has been a takeover of the political system by the Southern state mentality, wherein voters place more value in keeping the other guy down then in advancing their own interests. This has led to a resentment of unions (those union guys are making $18/hour and I’m only making $7.65? The answer must be to weaken the unions). Bottom line for the Dems is that although as a party they support unions, the unions can’t deliver the votes they once did.

  62. MarkedMan says:

    Here’s a practical thing unions could do to improve effectiveness: remove the clause in their contract that requires the company to pay for shop stewards time when they are working on worker complaints and other union issues. All too often the characteristics of a person who is attracted to the position are 1) They hate their job, and 2) They thrive on confrontation. This results in people looking to create dissension and discord so they don’t have to do their job and can tell people off and argue and feel self righteous.

    In a previous career I spent a lot of time in all kinds of factories all over the US and in some foreign countries and can tell you that there are many plants in the US that need to be unionized for basic safety alone (anyone who tells you that OSHA is a big bad meanie that harasses companies is BS’ing out of either ignorance or deliberately). And I have also been in some unionized plants that make me embarrassed to be a man, as I witnessed middle aged guys (always guys) acting like twelve year olds being ‘tricky’ to get out of doing their d*mn job. In a NY Times plant I once had to listen to a ‘clever’ duo, one mechanic and one electrician, argue for fifteen minutes about whether turning the screw needed to adjust speed on my equipment was an electrical job or a mechanical one. If I had done it myself I would have had a violation written up and been thrown out. In a Unilever plant I saw three fifty year old fat men, mechanics, come running past me (unwritten rule: contractors and vendors never get involved in an employee relations issue) and flop over a conveyor belt so they could hide from the manager that wanted them to fix a line. And in a GM plant I’ve gone into the on-floor machine shop, where only the mechanics were allowed – no management – and seen rolling tool cabinets meticulously arranged so no one standing outside the wired enclosure could see the top of a particular workbench, which usually had someone sleeping on it.

  63. al-Ameda says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’rant cracker:

    My favorite part about Nethercutt was that shortly after he got to DC, he said in an interview with the hometown newspaper, that he had come to realize that he was completely wrong about term limits and could now see the advantage of holding office for as long as it was possible for him to do so. It wouldn’t be possible for him to accomplish all that he wanted to do for his constituents in a mere 4 years.

    Basically, Nethercutt was a standard off-the-shelf, retail priced grease ball.

    Republicans are almost always the ones calling for term limits; What they really want is term limits for Democrats, they can’t come out and say that directly.

  64. michael reynolds says:

    @C. Clavin:
    It’s actually the closest he can get to offering something intelligent. I’m wondering if he’s had a mental health check. Alzheimers?

  65. Jim Brown 32 says:

    Term Limits would actually force congress people to do their jobs. The current strategy is to never take a tough vote and force the Executive & Judicial branches to do something marginal with their authorities–where you can then run against the President and “Activist Judges” in the next election.

    With re-election off the table, legislators may actually take a vote on something substantial rather than punt to the Executive and Judicial Branch. Its a good start.

    Many of you don’t understand how much of the actual work staffers do. The Legislators are out raising money and dialing for dollars most of the time. They get an executive summary on issues and the staffers recommended course of action. Most of these people are walking “Easy Buttons”

  66. Paludicola says:

    There seems to be an inherent tension between claiming to want a reform so that the voices of the people will be heard, but proposing a reform that denies them the power to be heard in a certain way. (I.e. Voting for an incumbent after an arbitrary, fixed number of terms)

    Term limits seem like a silly, inadequate, small-and-narrow minded reform to me. The rationale seems unclear and the motivation more punitive than practical or well-reasoned. As reforms go, it’s not even rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, it’s throwing them overboard, because that’ll show that dumb iceberg.

    @Jim Brown 32:

    I don’t think that your reasoning holds. Unless legislators are restricted to a single term, some portion of them will always be bound by essentially the same incentives to seek further time in office as they are now. They might even be more inclined to self-servingly defer to the judiciary and executive as they’d face reduce risked of future consequences should their deferral backfire and because their limited terms will mean that they’re surrendering less influence and clout by doing so.

    That legislators depend greatly upon their staff raises a potential concern. If legislative staff are not limited in how long they can serve, but legislators are, staff will accrue even greater influence and prestige relative to their ostensible, but perpetually inexperienced bosses. Thus would a major part of what decides political outcomes be insulated from and not responsive to elections. Alternatively, there could be limits on how long staff could serve, but that risks problems as well. Such restrictions, depending upon how they operate, might be circumvented by a pool of familiar personnel alternating in and out of government or simply by not being formally legislative staff, but working from private legislative consulting or services firms. (When government lacks or abandons a capacity, it seldom ceases performing the tasks; rather it contracts it out, often at greater cost and creates a new political interest in the process)

    If the time in service of staff were somehow substantively limited, then perpetually neophyte legislators would be assisted by staff who were equally as inexperienced and out of their depth. They would be easy prey for lobbyists, who could conveniently and self-servingly supply some of their missing capacity, and ill-able to counter more experienced, influential executive branch personnel. Of course, one could try to impose restraints on the time in service of the executive as well, but by that point a gigantic, impenetrable mountain of justiciable regulations would have to have been created to keep anybody in government from really knowing how to do their jobs and the most talented people generally not wanting to bother applying. In the name of some ill-defined, platitudinous ideal of political virtue we end up ruled by a perpetual junior varsity team who probably spend a lot of time tied up by administrative law cases.

  67. Pch101 says:

    Term limits at the federal level will encourage the participation of those who see politics as a stepping stone to bigger and better things.

    They’ll use the gig to become lobbyists, political pundits, members of corporate boards, partners in law firms and investment banks, and the rest of it.

  68. Turgid Jacobian says:

    @Paludicola:

    Even this deeply understates the amount of “work” done by the lobbies and the kind of advantages they have vis a vis legislators and even good staffers.

  69. al-Alameda says:

    There is no magic bullet, period.

    Here in California we’ve had some manner of term limits for about 20 years. My understanding is that, a person may serve all twelve years in either the Assembly or the Senate, or a combination of the two houses.Those elected officials who served terms prior to the passage of State Proposition 28 are grandfathered-in and subject to the old term limits rules. Since 1996 Assembly members have been limited to three terms (6 years) since 1996.

    Reality: When you term most of these folks out, the short-timers basically let special lobbyists write the important bills, and if the issue is too-hot-to-handle, the legislature usually abdicates responsibility and let’s the issue go directly to the voters by way of ballot propositions.