Term limits are bad for America - Tucson Local Media: Editorials

Term limits are bad for America

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Posted: Tuesday, September 2, 2008 11:00 pm

It’s always fun watching conservatives trying to define themselves. We have some folks who claim us even when they’re not even close, although there’s a big tent for the diverse coalition generally referred to as the center-right.

One of the problems the conservative coalition causes for itself is too many react to judicial usurpations and expansions of writ by offering constitutional amendments to correct each judicial transgression. Republican platforms are usually filled with these.

One simple observation — if you have enough votes in Congress to pass a constitutional amendment, you should also have enough senators to confirm judges who will overturn prior decisions. We have but 27 Amendments now. Only 12 have been added since the Civil War. The amendment process is rightfully long, laborious and mostly unnecessary.

I suggest a back to basics program. If Jimmy Madison and other founders didn’t think of or rejected it, we probably don’t need it. That’s one reason why I no longer support Congressional term limits. Conservatives are divided on this issue. Here’s one more good argument against.

A cliche many candidates use is “I’m not a professional politician.” My old liberal radio co-host Mike Tully always answered that with “So, why would I want an amateur?”

The founding fathers were almost all professional politicians. While they had a life and other interests beyond public service, they spent great portions of their lives in government. A review of our first seven Presidents proves the point.

George Washington served in the Virginia House, both Continental Congresses, and was president of the Constitutional Convention. John Adams served in local offices in Massachusetts, with Washington in the Continental Congresses, and as a foreign ambassador before the vice presidency. Thomas Jefferson held ambassadorial posts, local office in Virginia including governor before becoming secretary of state and vice president. James Madison served in local office in Virginia and later in the federal Congress. James Monroe served in Congress, the Senate, as governor of Virginia and Secretary of State and War. John Quincy Adams was a state and U.S. senator before he was president and a House member for 14 years after. Andrew Jackson was a senator, governor and state judge. Other founders like Sam Adams and Patrick Henry, who was governor of Virginia for seven terms, also held many offices over the years.

They were all career politicians. While Washington set the voluntary precedent of declining a third presidential term, few advocated formal limits.

One unfortunate by-product of the conservative fascination with term limits was the inclusion of term limits for Congressional committee chairs in the GOP 1994 Contract with America. Based partially on polling data and aimed at the 1992 Perot voter, this has returned Congress to the rule of a handful of powerful leaders, something the much denigrated seniority system it replaced was designed to offset. It was a mistake and its beneficiaries have been folks like Tom Delay and Nancy Pelosi.

Re-writing history is something we on the right regularly accuse the left of doing. Too many conservatives have tried to tell us that our founders were some kind of part-time citizens who spent little time learning the simple principles of governance. Wrong — they worked at it very hard, and while they may have believed in rotation in office, they hardly believed in being out of office for very long.

This is good! Part of what makes us exceptional as a nation is the quality of leadership we produced from the very beginning of the Republic. At times we’ve been a close run thing.

Thank God America had those original professional politicians who knew enough about governing to give us the greatest nation in the world.

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