By Howard Rich -
As Washington D.C. slips further below the waves of partisan rancor and unprecedented red ink, voters of both parties are overwhelmingly endorsing term limits as a way to right the sinking ship.
In fact as increasing numbers of Americans have begun to recognize the importance of refocusing our nation on its founding principles, none of those principles is garnering more support than term limits.
According to the results of a new FOX News poll, 78 percent of all voters favor term limits — including 84 percent of Republicans and 74 percent of Democrats and Independents. By contrast, only 16 percent of voters oppose term limits. In today’s era of political hyper-partisanship and media-fueled ideological divisiveness, those numbers are positively astounding.
Or are they?
The truth is that support for term limits has always been strong. In 2002 for example voters in states that passed legislative term limits during the previous decade were still supporting them by huge majorities — ranging anywhere from 60 to 78 percent.
Given such strong and consistent public support, it’s not surprising that the only successful attempts to undo legislative term limits in the modern era have come from legislative or judicial actions which overturned the results of popular elections. In fact just last year New York City leaders arbitrarily tossed out the results of two citywide elections to give themselves additional terms in office.
So much for the argument that term limits are “anti-Democratic.”
A throwback to Athenian, Spartan and Roman government, the concept of term limits — or “mandatory rotation in office” — is actually a staple of democracy. Championed by Thomas Jefferson and numerous Founding Fathers, term limits were designed to “prevent every danger which might arise to American freedom by (politicians) continuing too long in office.”
“Nothing is so essential to the preservation of a Republican government,” George Mason — the father of the U.S. Bill of Rights — wrote in endorsing term limits.
Famed female historian Mercy Otis Warren — who was dubbed “the conscience of the American Revolution” — vigorously protested the exclusion of term limits from the U.S. Constitution, while accurately predicting the corrosive influence that career politicians would wield over the populace in their absence.
“There is no provision for (rotation in office), nor anything to prevent the perpetuity of office in the same hands for life; which by a little well timed bribery, will probably be done,” she wrote in 1788.
Frankly, our government has moved well past “a little well timed bribery.” Today, decisions in Washington are dictated almost exclusively by a corrupt pay-to-play culture in which powerful special interests (often taxpayer-funded interests) leverage their access to career politicians in order to expand their slice of the public largesse.
It’s a favor factory, pure and simple — and rather than governing on principle both Republicans and Democrats end up being governed by the spoils that come from dispensing those favors.
Look at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — a pair of government-sponsored (now government-owned) mortgage giants that were able to use their relationships with career politicians to evade reform efforts during the early part of this decade. Having escaped accountability, Fannie and Freddie’s reckless lending helped sow the seeds for America’s recent financial collapse.
And look at government’s “solution” to this ongoing financial collapse — draconian new regulations over the free market that give these same career politicians even greater power over the flow of capital in America.
Speaking of government “solutions,” look at organized labor — which has received billions of dollars via government bailouts and Barack Obama’s new socialized medicine bill. Are we supposed to believe that this money is not payback for the $100 million that unions gave to Obama and Democratic candidates during the 2008 election?
Whose interests are being served by these policies? Clearly not those of the American taxpayers, whose personal and financial freedom shrinks with each new government power grab financed by borrowed billions.
And while changing political parties may treat the immediate symptoms of Washington’s disease, absent long-overdue reforms like term limits we will never actually treat the disease itself.
Overwhelming majorities of Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, partisans and independents recognize this reality. It is past time for our politicians to put down their personal interests and follow suit.
The author is chairman of U.S. Term Limits.