ALLAN JEFFERYS: Maybe I Have Been Wrong in Opposing Term Limits
Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City, has recently reversed his thinking about term limits and is now seeking a third term.
Many New Yorkers seem to agree with this, so it may happen. Bloomberg is a brilliant businessman and has been one of the best New York mayors.
That city, of course, has had a wide variety of mayors ranging from corrupt to incompetent to good. It has survived all of them, which may be an argument for retaining term limits under the "no person is indispensable" theory. Personally, the only NYC mayor I knew was John Lindsay, who had even more charisma than Barack Obama yet could hardly be called indispensable.
I have long been opposed to term limits because I recognize that sometimes it takes a while before politicians can learn their job, and changing them every few years might mean we let rookies run the show forever.
But wait a minute. Maybe I have been missing some obvious flaws in my theory. Without term limits, Congress has become a full-time career for too many dodos. All they seem to do these days is run for re-election.
Why not? If you hang in there long enough you can capture plum assignments and chair major committees by seniority alone.
And the longer you are in office, the easier it becomes to stay there. You have name recognition, powerful earmarks to swap for contributions to your campaign and clout many, if not most, could never achieve in the real world.
Besides, you don't have to work very hard or put in too many hours. With a month to go before the elections, Congress adjourned -- presumably to campaign for re-election.
Today's Congress (either house) is no longer populated by servants of the people. Today's member is a self-serving, perk-ridden career politician who grows fatter and fatter each year. If ever they retire, they will know where all bodies are buried and can command immense incomes as lobbyists.
Somehow, I don't think that is what the founding fathers had in mind when they dreamed up our form of government. Wasn't it the idea that when it came your turn, you would put down the plow and go help run the government and then go back to the plow?
The biggest problem is that these foxes are firmly ensconced in the hen house. They write all the rules and laws. They are not covered by Social Security; they have their own cushy pension plan and you and I can do nothing about it. Nancy Pelosi is speaker of the House and thus a couple of heartbeats away from being named president of the United States. But you and I did not elect her -- California did. California, that state that is in huge financial trouble and is populated by -- you know: Californians.
I am thus beginning to suspect I have been wrong about opposing term limits. Individuals are not indispensable -- especially in the Senate and the House. There is also the problem of party. They all claim to be able to reach across the aisle and do the bipartisan thing but seldom do.
Which means it is difficult to vote against a member of the party you registered with even if the person is a total dolt. You have to guard against tilting the odds. Once you have passed the primaries, you're stuck with the candidate of your party.
Some people have suggested throwing them all out and picking their replacements at random from the telephone directory. There is merit in that.
But, sooner or later, we'd be right back at square one. A better way is to write a contract that forces them to act in our behalf. Before they run for office, they have to sign a binding contract that guarantees no earmarks, no contributions from lobbyists, no huge pensions based on one term in office, no sitting back and waiting for seniority to lift them up to big power. (Hear that, Barney Frank?)
I'm sure you can come up with some more things to make them sign. Maybe agree to pass the FairTax. The big club would be that if they sign our contract and then break it, they are out of there instantly -- no drawn-out impeachment proceeding, just: "Here's your hat. Go."
It is too late to implement all of this only days before the election. But let them know that this contract is being written and heading their way. And let them know that term limits are long overdue and we are tired of seeing the same old faces on the rare occasions that they show up for work. Grind the rust off their plows and tell them to get ready to work the land again. Tell them they have been in office too long.
Think of this when it's time to vote. And please do vote. It is our right and responsibility.
Allan Jefferys, a former New York theater critic, entertainment editor and newsman, lives in Pinehurst. You can contact him at email@example.com.
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