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Term limits: As if experience isn’t a good thing?


While term limits are useful in corralling executive power, mandating a limitation on service in the legislation branch has greater potential for harm than good.

It’s time to dispel the notion that the establishment class is inherently bad. In looking at politicians through the lens of the free market, it actually becomes quite clear why certain senators and representatives continue to win elections: their constituents actually approve of the job they’re doing and the policies they are pushing. To put it simply, good politicians win elections and bad ones don’t.

This idea that incumbent politicians are somehow immune to the very real fact that elections are based solely on the will of the people is absurd.

Of course, there is the argument that unlimited term limits make it close to impossible for unknown politicians to break through onto the national scene; the logic here being that establishment candidates have an incomparable advantage because of the money and support they receive. However, this is neither true, nor inherently bad.

If a candidate does a good job, then they are rewarded not only with votes and support, but with more tangible means as well  – namely in the form of monetary campaign contributions from their party, from citizens and entities like businesses or PACs.

This is a notion that is, for some reason, still controversial to many voters. It is incomprehensible to assert that businesses and the people who run them do not have a right to support political candidates whose policies will very much affect their livelihoods.

As per the decision reached in Citizens United, the First Amendment guarantees the right to political speech, even when it comes in the form of political donations. 

This protection is inherently American, and enforces, rather than opposes, the idea that American citizens (yes, even if they own businesses!) get to determine who runs their country.

This moral argument aside, has also been found that political ads (which is what most of this money funds) are significantly less efficacious than many people believe in determining or influencing voting behavior.

In addressing campaign finance, Robert Shrum, a senior fellow at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, said, “there is certainly no linear relationship between amount of money and degree of success.”

In fact, a quick look at the Republican primary (in which Trump became the nominee despite being outspent by not one, but two primary opponents) makes it blatantly obvious that money does not always equate to electoral success.

In reality, it is much more realistic to argue that the biggest factor in the continued success of incumbent candidates is, in fact, name recognition. However, incumbency is not the only prerequisite to name recognition.

Doing things that actually benefit people and having an increased involvement in regional politics also builds names recognition. However, even this is not a necessity for winning the election (perhaps the best example of this argument was when a relatively unknown junior senator from Hawaii became the 44th President of the United States).

This argument that allowing good politicians to stay in office prevents other politicians from being successful is a simplistic analysis, and does not take into account the various nuances that contribute to a candidates’ success.

As if these weren’t reasons enough to prove that legislative term limits are a bad (and fundamentally repressive) idea, it is also important to bear in mind that term limits may very well create incentives for Congressmen to enter the private sector as lobbyists or other political agents.

In fact, term limits could give them even more bully pulpit as they do so, because they would be entering the private sector on the heels of perceived success. In short, a politician who was voted out of office has less clout than one who had to leave because the government said so, even if his or her constituents wanted him to.

Another inconvenient truth for proponents of term limits to face is the fact that Congress functions best when it is being run by people with the political and practical experience to affect real, informed policies.

Every decision, no matter how seemingly insignificant, that Congress makes affects Americans. While it is no secret that Americans are displeased with the gridlock in Congress, it stands to reason that American would be just as, if not more, unhappy with an activist Congress that makes poor choices as a result of inexperienced leadership.

The framers of the constitution deliberately created a bicameral legislature that could discuss policy over extended periods of time. If Congress moves too quickly (which could very well be the case with an influx of overly-ambitious, fresh-faced Congressmen) it runs the risk of enacting policies that hurt large swaths of the population – especially those that find themselves in the minority – while circumventing the idea of checks and balances just because a crop of junior senators wants to prove themselves.

At first glimpse, congressional term limits may seem like an obvious solution to unfairness, and even corruption, in the federal legislature, but in the aggregate they would actually create more problems than they solve.


The views and opinions expressed in the Op-Ed section are those of the authors of the articles. They are not an endorsement of the views of The Chronicle or its staff. The Chronicle does not discriminate based on the opinions of the authors.

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