Sunday, May 29, 2016

Term Limits

The idea of term limits for elected officials appeals to a lot of people who haven't really thought about the depth of the problem of corrupt government and why it exists.

The false premise behind term limits is that people who run for elected office are sincere to begin with. They come into office as idealistic innocents who are then corrupted by their own power and proximity to the collective power of others in leadership positions. That hasn't been true for many years.

Corruption in politics has been a tradition for centuries. A rare elected leader might display altruism, but for the most part the activities of politics are pragmatic, if not downright filthy. But the advent of media campaigns allowed a new dimension in corruption, in which wealthy interests can manipulate public opinion without appearing in the media themselves. We've all heard of the notorious Koch brothers, and George Soros, and a small list of other billionaire heavies, but they occupy the headlines far less than their elected lackeys and whipping boys who do the dirty work. Railroad one lackey out, be assured another lackey is being groomed to move up the chain into the vacated slot. So, there is flaw number one with term limits.

Flaw number two is that term limits are generally discussed for national offices. Forces who hated Franklin Roosevelt managed to get limits placed on presidential terms. The movement now talks about doing it down through the senate and house of representatives. In addition to simply speeding up the conveyor belt of pork and favors with absolutely no interruption of services provided to the oligarchs, this also leaves the vastly influential state, county, municipal and local governments in which power brokers can lodge like reef-dwelling eels, growing longer and fatter, with sharper and sharper teeth as no amount of spearfishing manages to dislodge them. And so we come to the one -- and only one -- way term limits could work.

Term limits could work if they were instituted without exception all the way down to the lowest elected office in the tiniest jurisdiction in the country. It would be the closest we could come to drafted government, which would, in fact, be quite resistant to corruption. Turnover would be regular, and could be quite rapid if the limits were made tight. We would have to choose from eligible candidates, as previous office holders limited out and could no longer serve directly. Politicians no longer eligible could still hang around and exert influence, the way former elected officials become lobbyists and paid lecturers, but they would be out of the direct chain of command. However, unless the laws were written specifically to prevent it, a bad actor could get elected to one position, then another, then another, aided by backers who would advertise the candidate's experience right alongside his outsider status coming into each new position. Voters are easily led by shallow rhetoric and slick entertainment. We vote by emotion as we pay lip service to well-reasoned consideration of the issues.

Without massive overhaul of campaign finance, and a thorough application of term limits as far down as I have stated, corruption will find a way, because corruption has the more powerful motive than innocent honesty. Honesty just wants to do the right thing and have everyone else do it, too. Corruption wants to manipulate the system for the gain of a few masterminds. It doesn't take a lot of energy as long as the corrupters remain focused on their goal and keep applying the funds they control to consolidate their advantage.

Personally, I would welcome term limits at the town level, because I would be ousted from my two board positions and could screw off on those evenings. But in a town as small as Effingham, we would have to import people in just a few cycles, to have anyone eligible at all.

1 comment:

mike w. said...

Well said. Please send this commentary to every major OpEd page!