In Part 2-A of this article I presented four potential areas which need to be addressed by Constitutional Conventions. As Congress and the Executive Branch have been powerless to reign-in their egos and ever increasing differences of opinion, the public must intercede to put civility and common sense back in the country’s governance.
There are many other areas which need to be addressed as well, because what was once envisioned by the Founding Fathers as a governance by elected officials who would be citizen-civil servants; serving a term in office and then return home to live under the laws they had enacted, they could not have foreseen the modern political climate in which career politicians have become the rule-of-thumb. At the time of the first Constitutional Convention, the notion of a person spending decades away from home to serve in government was unrealistic. In those days a representative would have earned only a “modest” salary for serving his country; unlike today, where a position in Congress has become a means to wealth. From their own writings…
James Madison described the ideal representative as one “called for the most part from pursuits of a private nature and continued in appointment for a short period of office.”
George Mason stated further, “Nothing so strongly impels a man to regard the interest of his constituents, as the certainty of returning to the general mass of the people, from whence he was taken, where he must participate in their burdens.”
Jefferson defended his position in favor of Congressional term limits with: “My reason for fixing them in office for a term of years, rather than for life, was that they might have an idea that they were at a certain period to return into the mass of the people and become the governed instead of the governors which might still keep alive that regard to the public good that otherwise they might perhaps be induced by their independence to forget.”
Now, while these thoughts only dwell on term limits for members of Congress, the country did see the need to limit the number of terms of the Presidency with the enactment of the 22nd Amendment in 1947. Many are not aware however that there have been congressional term limits. If fact, U.S. Senators and Representatives from 23 states faced term limits from 1990 to 1995, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared the practice unconstitutional with its decision in the case of U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton.
In a 5-4 majority opinion written by Justice John Paul Stevens, the Supreme Court ruled that the states could not impose congressional term limits, because the Constitution simply did not grant them the power to do so. In his majority opinion, Justice Stevens noted that allowing the states to impose term limits would result in “a patchwork of state qualifications” for members of the U.S. Congress, a situation he suggested would be inconsistent with “the uniformity and national character that the framers sought to ensure.” In a concurring opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that state-specific term limits would jeopardize the “relationship between the people of the Nation and their National Government.”
The Farmers who wrote the Constitution did in fact consider and reject the idea of congressional term limits. In Federalist Papers No. 53, James Madison explained why the Constitutional Convention of 1787 rejected term limits.
“A few of the members of Congress will possess superior talents; will by frequent re-elections, become members of long standing; will be thoroughly masters of the public business, and perhaps not unwilling to avail themselves of those advantages.” BUT he went on to say, “The greater the proportion of new members of Congress, and the less the information of the bulk of the members, the more apt they be to fall into the snares that may be laid before them.” In other words Madison felt newer member were more likely to fall prey to the trappings of Congress
In the turbulent period of 1787 one must understand the average life expectancy was only around 40 years old. This in itself was thought to be a “term limit”, so to speak, but even in the infinite wisdom of those who wrote the U.S. Constitution, when it came to the third check on government excesses and abuse, The Supreme Court, much thought was given as to how to keep and maintain an independent judiciary to oversee the laws that were enacted. To minimize public sentiment and protect the rights of the minority from the potential of abuse of the majority in a democracy, the Supreme Court Justices would be given an “appointment for life”. In this manner they would not be subject to the court of public opinion and have to stand for re-election.
Today I see this as being a major problem. Life expectancy is no longer 40, but closer to 90. No one envisioned the power of a Supreme Court Judge would endure so long. A simple 10-15 year one-time term would be sufficient accomplishing the same end-goal of not being swayed by public opinion.
In addressing a Constitutional Convention on Term Limits: Limitations on the amount of ‘public service’ an elected official should be allowed, is a key issue of most citizens in light of the influence of money in politics. It has made “public service” a full-time career for many politicians, something the Founders never envisioned. The Founding Fathers, according to the Federalist Papers #62 (written by James Madison) defined the role of the Senate understanding, “it is a misfortune incident to republican government, though in a less degree than to other governments, that those who administer it may forget their obligations to their constituents, and prove unfaithful to their important trust. In this point of view, a senate, as a second branch of the legislative assembly, distinct from, and dividing the power with, a first, must be in all cases a salutary check on the government”. That becomes an insurmountable task without a periodic refreshment of new legislators.
Before those hankering for term limits get so wound up in there jubilance that I agree with them regarding the tenants of term limits, they should consider the end-goal of minimizing the overall influence of money which has been shown to be the biggest corrupting factor in swaying the laws that are written. The Supreme Court has declared that money=freedom of speech, so if money +time in office=corruption, we must still address the issue of MONEY in politics. Term limits only addresses half the equation.
What good are term limits when elected politicians can serve to the limit of their term and then proceed up the ladder to continue their sphere of influence by becoming LOBBYESTS, raking in millions of dollars in fees? If not proceeding up the ladder to the level of lobbying for influence peddling special interests, perhaps becoming a “consultant or spokesperson” for some enterprise seeking to buy favorable legislation might become an alternative highway to wealth. Either avenue continues the corrupt influence of career power brokers which in itself almost always disregards the well-being of the public in favor of the personal self interest of the politician.
Only when a Constitutional Amendment addressing term limits is coupled with a prohibition against lobbing, consultancy with entities doing business with the government, becoming employees or spokesperson for companies seeking governmental contracts or special interest groups, will the country finally drive the over-powering influence of money from politics. And only when the PEOPLE ACT, will such measures ever be taken.
Economy: The government has so screwed up the economy with its meddling, stimulus plans, mounting regulations/rules, mandates, and taxes, the country is at an all-time low in the number of people working full-time, and in fact we witnessed an actual decline of 2.9% in our Gross Domestic Product this past quarter. It is safe to say, and history can show many examples that government meddling in our free market economy, probably did more to lengthen the Great Depression than other factors. Such ignorance of history and economics can be seen today as contributing factors to economic downturns every time Congress or an administration believes they can make things better tinkering with free market economics.
I have not been able to find anywhere in the Constitution that grants the President the power to select winners and losers in our free market economy; to make “bailout” payments to companies that he deems are “too big to fail”, or where laws or even parts of laws do not have to be enforced at the discretion of the Oval Office. We have an Attorney General seemingly willing to disregard the will of Congress to investigate improprieties and illegal activities, while selectively prosecuting even the most mundane activities of anyone who voices opinions contrary to the way the government is being run, even trampling our First Amendment rights of freedom of speech, assembly, and redress of our grievances.
Once we can prove We the People can act like adults and in civility discuss the problems running our great country over the cliff, we will have earned the right to participate in a Constitutional Convention which is apparently the final redress of our concerns about the governance of our country. The answers do not lie in armed insurrection or “third party candidates”. They lie in the Constitutional powers of the people.