This column by Paige Meredith is the first in a series he’ll be sharing with Stan Badgett.
How often have we heard platitudes expressing the idea that the wisdom of the people will keep our country on the right track?
Yet every poll seems to indicate that the U.S. Congress has an approval rating in the teens and once a person has been elected they, simply by name recognition, are almost guaranteed to be re-elected.
Why is this the case when, to paraphrase a comment I heard recently, the politicians who go to Washington to drain the swamp instead find that it is a hot tub? Many of us probably remember (from back when American History was taught) that George Washington refused the largely justified call of his destitute and disgusted army to overthrow the civilian government which had directed the war effort — a noble refusal that set the new nation on a course known nowhere else in the world.
Similarly, Thomas Jefferson in 1807 responded negatively to numerous calls by state legislatures to run for a third term. It was not until 1951 that the 22nd amendment to the constitution limited the presidency to two terms. This followed closely the four terms of election of Franklin D. Roosevelt, which inaugurated the modern era of politics in which the activity of the federal government is pervasive in practically every facet of our lives.
I recall a Western Colorado U.S. representative from not many years ago who promised that if elected he would serve only a relatively few terms (I don’t remember the number) and step down. But, perhaps not surprisingly, at the appointed time to retire he realized his vast importance and seniority and couldn’t in good conscience let down his constituents. When we occasionally hear of a congressman stepping down for reasons other than scandal I am quite happy about it even if I have liked his record.
Our founders had the monumental task of devising a governmental system that was neither a democracy, i.e. a pure republic, which is a practical impossibility, nor an aristocracy or some other tyranny independent of the people.
The solution was representative government. Given enough time in office it seems that these representatives often decide to have legislative careers measured in decades and not to be merely citizen legislators for a season. They then attain committee chairmanships and rule with an iron fist making decisions about which issues will even be brought up for discussion and votes. The result of all this: Impasse leading to staggering budget deficits. In 1990 our budget deficit was 3.3 trillion dollars; today it is over 21 trillion. Entitlement spending consumes 2/3 of the yearly budget; stifling business regulations, years of ignoring immigration laws, failing government schools.
Why haven’t we the people responded? My point is, in spite of my personal biases, it seems so evident that even persons of opposite political philosophies would see the need to make drastic changes, and that the most obvious means is to install term limits on congress. We as voters have failed to live up to our responsibilities by choosing and holding accountable capable representatives. Contrary to the apparent belief by many of our elected leaders, they are not indispensable. In fact, the common sense leadership required is not a function beyond the capacities of any somewhat well-read and attentive person.
We have a congress to establish laws which benefit the nation. These laws ultimately must be derived from a sense of belief about right and wrong. We must admit that the process to determine right laws is difficult, but perhaps the difficulty has been exacerbated by the entrenched politicians who are primarily interested in their own welfare and, therefore, that of their favorite special interest constituents and donors.
If the issue of term limits isn’t one on which citizens of all persuasions can agree there may not be such an issue. My personal evaluation comes from a biblical understanding that all people are fallen and therefore vulnerable to every selfish temptation. Many others would disagree and argue that people as a whole are fundamentally good. All of world history teaches otherwise, and that is why our tripartite government was established — to offer counter-weights of corrective influence among the three branches of government.
Frankly, I am astounded that a cross-party grassroots movement has never taken off in order to at least improve the moral quality of our ”leaders” by limiting their access to power.