Reduce the Market Itself
Donald Trump campaigned explicitly on term limits. His proposal was that Senators serve only two terms (for a total of 12 years) and that Congressmen and Congresswomen serve only 3 terms (a total of 6 years, for those of you who slept during civics class). This might be the smartest idea that Donald Trump has ever had (proving – yet again – the wisdom in the aphorisms about the blind squirrel and the broken clock).
The surest way to drastically reduce (notice I said “reduce,” not “rid”) the political system of the vast sums of money that pour in from both Democrat and Republican PACS, SuperPACs, Unions, lobbyists, etc., is to make the “market” for politicians be so low that the amounts involved wouldn’t rise high enough to finance a political campaign. You want to discourage both buyers and sellers from even attempting the transaction by making the transaction worth as close to zero as possible.
I have one friend who believes the answer is what I consider the “death penalty” for re-election campaigns: one term only for all politicians, effectively killing the re-election campaign market entirely. Senators would serve their single 6 year term and Congress-critters would get only 2, then it’s just like they say at the barber shop: “Next!” No one would then be able to use the cover of a re-election campaign as their primary vehicle for soliciting donations – and, more importantly, for paying off those donations by changing the legal status of either the donor or the rest of the citizenry, via legislation, or favorable tax status, or whatever form the payoff takes. I believe this is too radical an approach and undermines some of the institutional considerations that led the Founders to structure the government the way they did. My friend’s idea is too much like Congress’ approach for me. “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” to quote Maslow’s Law of the Instrument.
Congress’ approach to things they don’t like, as illustrated in part II, is simply to declare it illegal and then order the King’s Men to enforce the edict. What has been repeatedly demonstrated, however, is that simply prohibiting something by declaration – even with draconian enforcement methods and penalties – is an abysmal failure in every instance, including campaign finance reform. Prohibition of alcohol didn’t stop drinking; the War on ________ hasn’t stopped ________. Feel free to fill in your pet cause: Poverty rates are the same today as they were right before Lyndon Johnson declared “War!” on it, notwithstanding the billions and perhaps trillions spent on that war. It’s even worse for Drugs.
I think this attempt to obliterate the entire re-election market has too much downside, no matter how much it personally appeals to me. There are valid arguments for some continuity and retained “corporate knowledge” in the legislative arm of the U.S. government. I believe a middle-ground between the current system and the “no re-election” position is – and I can’t believe I’m saying this – exactly what Trump campaigned on: 12 years for Senators, though I would give 8 years (4 terms) to Congressman, because of the shorter terms. While it doesn’t completely eliminate re-election campaigns, what it would do – along with staggered elections every two years for one-third of each legislative chamber – is drastically reduce the “value” of any given legislator to near zero, because:
- There is a “lag time” required for new legislators to build up their graft mechanisms er, re-election campaigns. It takes some time to find one’s way around. I would give the incoming Senators and House members the benefit of the doubt for one Senatorial term. Twelve years is plenty of time to pursue something, do some legislative “good”… and then it’s time to go back to the productive/working class. The same is true of the 8 year limit for Congressman. After that, as far as I’m concerned, you’re a government welfare recipient of the worst kind.
- Term limits act as a natural check on legislative overreach and ambition. Legislators know that 90% reelection stat and they all are “banking” that they won’t be in the 10% who get sacked. The law is NEVER applied to Senators and House members like it is to the rest of us, as Obamacare showed everyone. (No Senator waits in line at the DMV like you do, either). If, however, the clock is already set for a fixed term, old Congressman Know-Nothing might think twice about what he does to you and me with his pen if he knows in the not-very-distant future, someone may very well be looking at his or her cell phone records, just like yours and mine.
- Large donors would have to take far greater risks with the possibility of no payback for their dollars. Given the current system involves tiered rates for those higher up in the food chain, the time compression of term limits would mean that by the time someone gains the experience to become a Committee Chair, they would likely no longer be facing a re-election campaign to solicit donations, perhaps one or two in Congress. In other words, as one spent more time in the Senate or House with the clock ticking in the background, one’s “value” (measured as the ability to control a legislative agenda, pass legislation, or the like) would get lower with the passing of each day because of dwindling chances for re-election.
More Possible than Ever?
Term limits has been an issue many times in the past. It typically draws favorable polling from both sides of the political aisle. Republicans currently control 33 state legislatures and hold 32 governorships. It takes 34 states (2/3) to call for a Constitutional Convention. It takes 38 to ratify an Amendment. If Trump – and Republican allies – are truly the party of limited government, or want to leave a legacy that would make everything else they ever do pale in comparison, they should be activating on this issue. If the people of these United States want to begin the process of taking their Freedom back, this should be what is one everyone’s lips and on their state and federal representative’s agenda: Term Limits. The Chicago Tribune pointed this out just after the election. They – as a mouthpiece for Democrats since their inception – lament such an idea, but it’s the only form of “campaign finance reform” that will ever work. Given Democrats (and most Republicans) complete ignorance of economics and free-, gray-, and black-markets (the latter two of which are created by politicians via taxes and legislation), don’t expect a big push for this forgotten promise any time soon. Politicians know how their bread gets buttered and they aren’t anxious to see that change. It’s the one campaign promise Trump made – and got right – without sticking his foot in his mouth. We should actually hold him to this one.