Term limits are healthy, but are not sufficientBy Rich Robinson | 11/17/2014 9:38pm
So I recently had a strange moment. No, I didn’t start watching Duck Dynasty or listening to Lana Del Rey. Are those even both things still? My strange moment was that I agreed with George Will on something other than baseball.
Will is a longtime columnist for the Washington Post and a conservative firebrand. Usually, he espouses right wing boilerplate that helps fuel deep GOP distrust in government. But about a month ago, he authored a column titled, “Term limits would strengthen Congress.” Will argued Congress has become full of people who aren’t looking to make big change, as the power of the presidency has increased.
“Congress increasingly attracts people uninterested in reversing its institutional anemia,” he wrote. “They are undeterred by – perhaps are attracted by – the fact that they will not be responsible for important decisions such as taking the nation into war. As Congress becomes more trivial, its membership becomes less serious.”
Serving in higher office is not a right, but instead a serious privilege. We need to change the rules by which we elect our members of Congress because they don’t seem to get that they work for us.
I didn’t always think this way. In fact, for many years, I viewed the issue of term limits through a political perspective. Democrats opposed them, so I fell in line, buying into the idea that it takes time to learn about the institutions and that gaining seniority was in some way a positive. While I am a progressive who believes in almost all of what the Democratic Party stands for, I more deeply believe in a government that works.
Sometimes that means the other guys have a good idea. That’s the case with term limits. Most elected Republicans support them while most Democrats oppose them. Really, it is pretty simple. It’s unhealthy for people to serve in Congress for 50 years. Sure, sometimes you have great leaders like Ted Kennedy who maintain power in this way and bring a great deal to our country over an extended period of time, but more often it protects a score of backbenchers who do little substantive in the decades they serve.
Imposing term limits on members of Congress is not the silver bullet to break the gridlock in Washington. We need greater reforms in campaign financing, should rollback the runaway view of campaign contributions recently imposed by the Supreme Court and need to greatly overhaul the gerrymandered districts that blight the country. This is a great test for the new look of the Republican Congress.
With control of both the House and Senate, the GOP would be smart to push for imposing term limits on members of Congress. If they don’t, then we will know they were never serious on the issue. My suspicion is they really aren’t serious about it and instead want to continue to use it as a talking point. That would be truly disappointing. After all, it’s not everyday that a Democrat wants a Republican talking point to become law. And I’d like to go back to disagreeing with George Will.
Rich Robinson is a senior majoring in telecommunication and film. His column runs weekly.