Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Term Limits or Power Limits

Bill C at Brain Droppings has brought up several good points in the comments to my previous post, here, on Congressional Term Limits (which was a continuation of his original post.) Pardon me, if I summarize his most recent comments here, unsatisfactorily:

Term limits will reduce careerism, influence peddling, potential threat of blackmail for fundraising (usually a constituent perception, not rep initiated), induce others to step up to the candidacy plate which will lead to better governance. In a previous comment he tackled my complaint that term limits were bad because it reduced government experience.

I'll concede that my loss of government experience argument is a marginal issue. I'll also concede that terms limits has a sufficient benefits to require them. But there are only two benefits. One is that it mitigates the danger of influence in the area closest to power. Anyone, including John Kerry (an example Bill used), is free to influence government action as best he can, just as any common citizen can. It's a limitation of how long one person may wield the final decision. As with the president being limited to the position of sole decision maker, so should the sole decision makers be limited for their respective positions. The second is it makes the power field more level. For example, that would allow for the pork to be spread more evenly. (Said with a tinge of snarkiness, and a lot of snarliness.) But more importantly, as Bill implies/I infer, it's a limit on the time which we, collectively, pay for a rep's growth experience in personal gratification and arrogance and, too often, enrichment.

But I do not believe that term limits would have much affect on growth of government nor better governance because the power to supply is not addressed. Disregard consideration of party. It is not the representative, necessarily, who is seduced by the power to supply, but the constituents. As I indicated in linking to the "Not Yours To Give" story, the power to give has broken its Constitutional chains; the seduction is always too great to resist and Constitutional chains were to weak. So, the constituents just select the representative among many worthy candidates best attuned. And again, the ranks of the best attuned will be those with an affinity for supply by government.

Let us say, for example, that bad government is handing out sops to industries. Dairy, grain, timber, and oil are predominant and you have a host of smaller ones. If the power to hand out sops is not weakened, the opportunity remains to be sought for use and higher representative turnover will do little to staunch the desire because those most in favor will rise to the top of the candidacy list. Within the decision making process, the path of least resistance is not for everyone to agree that all sops are bad. The path of least resistance is the majority gets a sop to hand out. Any insufficiency with respect to majority just requires widening the sop playing field.

Term limits do not address the power. I'll agree with Bill C that term limits are needed to deliver those benefits he notes. But it would be a mistake, I think, to support term limits in the belief it will address the problem of good governance.

Bill, if you don't disagree substantially on this, let's go on to discuss other reforms, like term limits for campaign funds or, better yet, progressive taxes on campaign funds. Those rich campaign fund politicians don't need all that money do they?

But soon we must discuss placing substantial limits on power.

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