Term Limits: Good for the People, Good for Politicians

Every few years, you’ll hear people discuss the idea of term limits, but the rumblings never amount to much. However, with the rise of Donald Trump -- a political outsider -- many on both sides of the party line are more interested than ever in sacking career politicians and introducing fresh faces to Washington.

The Sad State of Washington

John Adams once famously said, “Without term limits every man in power becomes a ravenous beast of prey.” Little did he know just how true these words would ring even centuries later.

At one point, just a couple of years ago, there were 36 senators who had been in elected office for more than 30 years. Of the 100 senators in Washington at the time, only 10 had a business background. Of these 10 senators, most had been in office longer than they were in business. Perhaps this could explain why Congress’ approval rating has hovered between 10 and 20 percent for so long.

Currently, there are no term limits for vice presidents, representatives, senators, and Supreme Court justices. On the state level, there are still 14 states that don’t have strict term limits for their governors.

It’s easy to point the finger and call politicians crooked, greedy, and self-seeking, but it’s not like they’re all benefitting from being able to remain in office for decades on end. Career politicians may be benefitting socially and financially, but all of their time on the job is wreaking havoc on their health.

An evolving body of research continues to prove what we’ve assumed for many years --that job-related stress has serious health consequences. One recent paper from the Harvard and Stanford Business Schools looked at some specific health issues and found that problems stemming from job stress -- like cardiovascular disease and hypertension -- are ultimately responsible for more than 120,000 deaths per year. That makes work-related stressors and illnesses more deadly than diabetes, Alzheimer’s and influenza.

In fact, job-related stress has become such a problem in varying industries – public office included – that an entire crop of new products has emerged to combat the symptoms. Take snoring, which is often tied to chronic stress, as an example. There are now dozens of devices on the market to combat the ill effects of snoring, which is often best treated by uncovering the root cause (frequently stress).

All of that to say this: a lack of term limits is bad for everyone. The system is more easily corrupted, the people lose trust in their government, the government becomes stale, and politicians are mentally and physically affected -- sometimes to the point of chronic illness.  

How Do We Fix the Mess?

Clearly, we have a mess on our hands. It’s a mess that a lot of people talk about, but one that never gains enough momentum to actually produce change.

The biggest problem is that term limits would actually have to be passed by Congress. Do you really think they’re going to vote themselves out of power? In 2012, the Senate rejected term limits in a 24-75 vote.

Ironically, 75 percent of voters have historically supported limiting congressional terms. How is it, then, that a government for the people and by the people is allowing career politicians to stay in office for decades on end, when millions of people believe it’s a bad idea?

Thankfully, there are options. And while any attempt to impose term limits faces an uphill battle, the good news is that our Constitution does allow for the American people to step up and take action in situations where the system appears to be breaking down.

As outlined in Article V, a Convention of States permits individual states to propose amendments outside of Congress. State representatives can propose amendments in the Convention, which are then ratified by the states. If, as the polls suggest, three out of four voters support term limits, these amendments would have no trouble passing.

It’s also worth noting that there is some quiet momentum building in Washington. Senator David Perdue points out that many members of Congress (on both sides) actually do support term limits. However, very few are willing to speak up for fear of being chastised by their peers. You can do your part by contacting your local members of Congress and demanding that they speak out on this issue. In a case like this, pressure is the best prescription.

We the People Need to Speak Up

Bluegrass legend Charlie Daniels has always spoken his mind when it comes to politics -- on the integrity of the Constitution, in particular. He certainly hasn’t been silent on this issue.

“There's a dirty little club in Washington and the state capitols around this country, a club whose membership fees are to toe the line and be willing to sell out your own nation for a place at the big hog trough,” he wrote back in 2010 when the topic of term limits was in the spotlight. “And ladies and gentlemen, with the exception of a handful of good men and women who actually keep the faith in this pack of wolves, that's what they are, pigs with and insatiable appetite for power.”

We the people have to speak up. It’s going to take a collaborative effort where each person has to reach over the aisle, put aside past and present differences, and restore the government that our Founding Fathers established: a government for the people and by the people. Not a government for the people and by a select few career politicians who are more worried about their bank accounts and image than the well-being of the constituents they serve.  

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