Human Events Blog

Term limits and positive choice

Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY) has introduced a motion to repeal the 22nd Amendment, which would remove the two-term limit on the presidency.  As noted by Digital Journal, this isn’t something Serrano did especially for the benefit of Barack Obama; he’s been trying to get rid of the 22nd Amendment since 2001.  And he’s not the only one:

Although Serrano’s bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, it is not expected to go far. The resolution has no cosponsors and it would require the approval of both the House and Senate and three-fourths of the states to amend the Constitution.

According to The Blaze, this is not the first time that effort has been made to repeal the 22nd Amendment. The late Rep. Guy Vander Jagt, who was then the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, introduced a bill to repeal the Amendment in 1986 and allow President Ronald Reagan a third term. Vander Jagt said: “The 22nd Amendment is an insult to American voters who are wise and well-informed.”
A similar resolution introduced by Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in 1989 also did not pass. In 2005, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) attempted an unsuccessful bipartisan move cosponsored by Reps. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.).
Several presidents have, understandably, expressed support of allowing presidents to serve more than two terms. Reagan reportedly supported Jagt’s move. He said the 22nd Amendment violated the right of Americans to “vote for someone as often as they want to do.”
The Blaze reports that former President Bill Clinton also spoke in support of presidents serving more than two terms.
I have the opposite view: I think we need more term limits, applying the logic of limited presidential terms to our Congressional royalty.  Perhaps they’re even more in need of term limits, since some of them are effectively Representatives-for-Life from perfectly safe seats.  Long-term incumbency brings disproportionate power to certain members, in essence rewarding the most politically calcified districts.
One other advantage to term limits would be an increase in the number of positive votes cast during elections.  Incumbency is so powerful that sitting representatives win their re-election campaigns by default.  Challengers are expected to discover compelling reasons to vote against them.  It’s like a magazine subscription: if you don’t cancel representation, it gets renewed automatically.
This is also true of programs championed by long-term incumbents.  They keep going as long as their patron representative or senator gets re-elected.  Term limits would give us more open races, in which new candidates would have to present positive cases to voters.  It wouldn’t be perfect, of course – some districts have political machines that would elect a ham sandwich with the correct Party credentials.  But looking at the way things work in our dysfunctional national capital, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that unilaterally dissolving the power of long-term incumbency would also take a little steam out of the perpetual-motion Big Government machine.  The mindset created by largely automatic incumbency is connected to government’s largely automatic growth.  And all of it would certainly get worse if the machine was driven by Presidents who could serve three terms, four terms, or even longer.

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