Obama Makes Conservative Case Against Term Limits

The Tea Party revived the cry for term limits in recent years and it was a centerpiece proposal of the 1994 "Contract with America" GOP victories. Of course, that particular reform proposal quickly parted from the newly elected members of that class. Term limits has that effect on politicians -- run on it for office, run from it once elected.

However, we have long had term limits in many offices around the country, including for the President of the United States (since the 22nd Amendment in 1951). In Houston, Texas the term limited mayor Annise Parker caused a chilling affect when she subpoenaed area pastors, demanding access to the sermons they preached about a very controversial action of the City Council to have the local government provide benefits to same sex couples. The reaction of the community was so overwhelmingly negative she withdrew the subpoenas; but It is highly unlikely that any candidate facing reelection (or the possibility of it) would pursue such a controversial legal action.

Barack Obama has also made an eloquent and persuasive conservative case for term limits. His unilateral action to provide legal status to 4 million undocumented workers is unprecedented. It has been compared to actions by previous presidents, but none have been as far reaching as what Obama has done. If there was a possibility that Obama was going to face reelection again, it is not likely he would have done this on his own. Fear of political fallout over Obamacare is why some of the most alarming mandates to business have not gone into affect. In fact, the Administration has taken two dozen unilateral actions to delay and even alter Obamacare policies. Most of these were favorable to Republicans, but he certainly didn't do them for the GOP. These actions were designed to mitigate the potential response of a hostile electorate who would take harsh actions against his Democrat allies fighting for their political lives. Now that he will never face reelection as President again, he has every reason to implement those mandates in his last two years.

I have long argued that term limits were a treatment of the symptoms of government's problems, rather than the causes. The reason you cannot get politicians to leave office is the benefits of power. Address that issue and politicians might leave voluntarily.

When I used to work for Senator Gordon Humphrey (R-NH) back in the 1980s, I had a surprising experience one day that humorously displays how difficult it is to get traction as a legislator in Washington. I was busy away typing a response to a constituent's question when an exasperated Rudy Boschwith (then, a Senator from Minnesota), flew into the room and with a dazed look, asked where the rest room was. He looked shocked and he acted as though he was going to a public rest room. It wasn't, but one of the many private ones in the offices of U.S. Senators for their staff. He was a Senator, I wasn't going to correct him, but the story has drawn many a laugh from other Hill staffers who have enjoyed their own new Member story. What is most amazing is that this happened in 1983. Boschwitz had been in the Senate for five years and still didn't know where the rest rooms were.

I know tons of stories like this. There is the new Congressman who told M. Stanton Evans how much he enjoyed his articles with Robert Novak (wrong Evans). I also cannot forget the member who insisted on not wearing her Congressional pin and expected every member of the Capital Hill police to recognize her. The list continues. My contention is simple, Congressional bureaucrats would rule Capitol Hill and Members of Congress would largely blindly follow. The stock of those who represent us would crash, while the unelected bureaucrats would grow in influence.

An even bigger problem is its potential impact on government spending. Take the lowly citizen (whom we will call "Mr. Smith") who decides to run for his state's legislature. It takes an enormous amount of time, energy, and money to get elected. Upon getting to the state House, he realizes he wants to do more and help more people, and do it without the pressure of having to run again every two years. He gets elected to his state Senate and before he knows it, Smith wants to put his sights on the US House in Washington, DC. Once he gets there, he notes the new term limits (in this Tea Party dream scenario) and he knows that six years (the typical suggested limit for House members) will be here in no time and he immediately begins to focus on statewide office... the US Senate, Governor, or other office. In order to have "a name" through out the state and favors to bear, Mr. Smith will send pork to the entire state from day one as a House member. As candidates feel forced to run for higher office, they will feel forced to share the largess of government. How does this help the cause of small government?

Instead of solving the "power problem" common in Washington, term limits will likely make it worse. Since the problem is power, solutions should be found in the way people govern. This could be seen in "super majorities" required for new taxes and spending, sunset commissions that require all spending bills to be reevaluated every two years, required changes in both committees and chairmen over certain time frames (this would certainly disrupt the influence of lobbyists). Most importantly, such reforms would address the real problem, which is power and not the length of time they are in office.

It is interesting that the same advocates for term limits also claim to be huge fans of the US Constitution. So what did the founders of the Republic have to say about term limits? Alexander Hamilton, in the Federalist papers (created to promote the passage of the Constitution in states around the country) made a powerful case against term limits. Fans of less government should take their own advice for liberal friends -- study your Constitution.