Today I have compiled some of the arguments I have heard for and against the institution of term limits.
Some people are against term limits because of the “lame duck” effect. An official on his last term has nothing left to lose by acting badly, so the reasoning goes, so we need to continue to offer them the possibility of being elected for future terms as incentive to behave well. This is why proponents of term limits have created alternative means of producing incentive, such as a pension contingent on a referendum. Under this system, at the end of one’s last term, a question is put on the ballot as to whether one is deserving of whatever the standard pension is. This could be paid for either by the federal government or by the state in question. Another system would be to cap only the number of consecutive terms, but leave open the possibility of coming back in the less immediate future.
Some people are against term limits because they limit true democracy; they prohibit the reelection of officials even when effective and highly popular. Thus, term limits seem to go against the very concept of self-government and the idea that it is the people who have the right to pick their own leaders. Supporters of term limits argue that historically, the average citizen has been shown to be highly manipulable and politicians (and even certain non-elected appointees) with long careers become ever more entrenched. Incumbents – even mediocre ones – are hard to unseat. Many supporters of term limits distrust direct democracy and see term limits as merely an extension of the principles of government our republic was based on.
Some people against term limits claim that to be a good representative, one needs to serve at least a few terms to build up the relationships, experience, and clout necessary to be effective. Supporters of term limits counter that it is only in an adversarial environment wherein each representative attempts to push his/her agenda (and those of his/her district) onto the country as a whole rather than working together that such things become important. If every district had terms limited by the same amount, no district would be at a disadvantage by having an inexperienced representative.
I always liked the idea of term limits because:
First, it makes it harder for a slim majority to maintain its hold on power while abusing the minority. Incumbents are hard to unseat, but with all new people up for election, every election is a potential opportunity for the minority to scrape together enough votes to win. This will “mix things up” every once in a while and so help to prevent one-party rule.
Second, even good people can let their thinking get into a rut and term limits will introduce some “fresh blood” and theoretically, fresh ideas.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, government will no longer attract career politicians that want to spend their lives ruling others (also puts them in a position to accept bribes) and instead will attract people who just want to make a difference and then go back to their regular lives with the rest of us.
Have I missed anything important? Having trouble understanding my position? Agree? Disagree? I want to understand you. Let the discussion commence.
Hi, I'm Dan. I like chocolate, hiking, and politics.