10 October, 2009

Many have considered the question of term limits when confronted with the corruption of Congress. "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." This proverb of Baron Acton is proven everyday by our own Congress whose members serve themselves at this expense of the public in an orgy of entrenched corruption. Republicans, Democrats, they are all guilty. Hence the frustration which leads to a desire for term limits. But term limits have problems. For one thing, there are the concerns of those who claim that such limits would impair their freedom to vote for whomever they please. Thus terms limits would lead to less liberty, not more, by imposing novel constraints on the sovereignty of the electorate. This is a serious drawback and deserves consideration. Another problem is that term limits would require a constitutional amendment. In order to amend the constitution the proposed amendment would have to be passed by two thirds of each house prior to sending it off to the states for ratification. It is not reasonable to expect that the members of Congress, in an epiphany of public spirit, like the cowardly lion finding his courage, will suddenly act en masse to end the aforementioned orgy and vote themselves out of office. This simply will not happen.

However, there is another approach to term limits which obviates the previous objections and has other advantages besides. That is to limit terms on the front end rather than the back end. Rather than make our public officers ineligible for reelection after a certain number of terms, make them ineligible for the first election until later in life. In short, raise the age requirements for eligibility for elected office. For example, the age requirements for Representative, Senator, and President are 25, 30, 35 respectively. Why not raise the age requirements to 40, 45, and 50 years? This approach would achieve the objectives of term limits. The idea behind term limits is the shorten the political career so that by the time the politician finally and inevitably becomes corrupt they must leave office. But in this case, aging and death would remove them, not a constitutional requirement. The shortening of career, hopefully to the lifespan of patriotic public spirit, would occur because they would start their political service later in life. Thus, the two objections mentioned earlier are answered. The first, because this imposes no new constraints on liberty. We already have age requirements to serve in public office. This will only change them. The second, because Congress might actually propose such an amendment if current members are grandfathered in. In this situation the interests of the public and interests of the corrupt members of Congress coincide. Congressmen might see an advantage in limiting the competition they face for reelection to a smaller pool of people, especially since this pool is likely involved in their own careers and unlikely to give up such careers. Thus this approach would make the political position of current members of Congress almost impregnable. But in the longer term, it would introduce a greater coincidence of interest of the government and the people by maintaining a higher percentage of short term politicians who have not yet been corrupted.

This approach has three other advantages as well. First, because public service must necessarily be put off until later in life, the private sector will be governed by those who have spent time in the private sector, rather than by those who have no connection to it and know nothing but feeding at the public trough. This will produce better legislation.

Second, public officers will have a fall back career, enabling them to put their country ahead of their own interests. We ask our military personnel to be willing to sacrifice their lives for the public good. Yet too often our political representatives are not even willing to risk their jobs for the same. This cynical attitude in our elected representatives comes in part from the fact that the loss of an election is a personal catastrophe for many of  them, since congressional service is all they know in terms of making a living. They have never done anything else. This leads vote pandering, the win at any cost mentality, poor legislation, and ultimately national bankruptcy. Let us require our representatives to show they are able to support themselves by their own efforts prior to handing them control of the republic. This will give us better quality congressmen who does not see loss of election as a disaster, since they can return to a rewarding career in the private sector.

Finally, this is in keeping with the spirit of the founders. They considered that public officers should be citizens of wisdom and experience, men of affairs.
Hence the age requirements above the general age of majority at the time. However, due to the abbreviated life expectancy then current they could not
afford the luxury of setting the age requirements for public office much higher than the age of majority. The pool of older people was too small. Given today's life expectancy, We can afford
this luxury. Given the experience of recent years with our self self serving Representatives, can we afford not to avail ourselves of this luxury?