A 2018 survey done by a Republican group, McLaughin and Associates, found that 82% of all Americans approve of term limits for Congress.
So, it appears that Americans favor the idea of term limits. But why? Here are five points you need to consider when thinking about term limits.
Congressional incumbents, on average, will win their re-election seat between 80-90% of the time (93% for House and 82% for Senate). That’s right. So, of the 535 members in Congress, around 450-500 will be re-elected every two years.
Congressional approval levels always hover around 20%. A recent survey found that Congress has an 18% approval rating in 2020. Yup, only 18% of the Americans surveyed approve of Congress right now.
Well, let’s just think about this logically. Usually, if we don’t like something, we change it.
So, in theory, if Americans don’t like Congress (18% approval rating), they’d vote their Congressional representatives out of office. They’d replace them so that Congress could do something different. Hey, that’s the whole point of elections. Americans get to hold their representatives accountable.
But wait… didn’t I just start out this section saying that Americans vote for the same representatives 80-90% of the time?
Yup, I sure did. So, Americans, who hate Congress, and hold within their hands the ability to change Congress, keep voting in the same Congress that they hate over and over again.
2. Your Representative, Not Mine
Here’s the thing. Americans are not engaged, informed or involved in politics. And when they do get a little involved around election time, it’s only to the smallest degree possible. They want to know who their Democrat or Republican representative is and they vote for them. Usually, Congressional incumbents (the holder of an office or a post) are familiar and safe for Americans who know little else about what is going on politically. So, they vote for the same person over and over and over again.
They like their local representative and blame the other representatives for the problems in Congress. They like their representatives and dislike yours. The issue with this way of thinking is that when everyone operates this way, everyone just ends up voting the same Congress into office again.
3. What Motivates a Congressperson?
Ok, before discussing term limits, let me ask you a simple question.
What motivates a Congressperson to behave and vote as they do?
This question puzzles political scientists all the time. Is it money? Is it ideological convictions, power, influence, a specific agenda, career goals?
Usually, political scientists argue that any number of these motivating factors could be influencing Congresspeople. However, there is one underlying motivation that all political scientists universally agree motivates every single Senator and House member.
The desire to be re-elected.
Right? If the Congressperson isn’t re-elected, all of these tangential motivations are irrelevant. Maybe they want power. They can’t have that power if they aren’t elected. Or maybe they want to push for a specific bill or issue to be changed. They can’t do that if they aren’t re-elected.
So, there’s one thing that keeps all of their power moderately in check, no matter how disconnected they might become.
Yes, you… you and all voters.
The power of the voters motivates them more than anything else.
The small fear that they could lose their election motivates them, drives them, to do whatever they can to keep their seat, to keep their access and power. They may represent the safest district in America but they still notice what their constituency is doing. They don’t want to slip up and lose like other Congresspeople in safe districts have done before.
So, see friends. These politicians might go to Congress and become disconnected career politicians, but no matter how safe they are, WE still have the power. We have the ability to take them out. And they always know this and that is why their behavior and their votes are still restrained.
4. Term Limits?
So, let’s think about term limits then. They sound nice. If we have term limits, maybe we’d stop having so many disconnected career politicians. Maybe we could start sending some new people into Congress who will see things differently and stop playing the game. Maybe we could change Congress for once rather than having the same 90% re-elected every 2 years.
Or maybe term limits will just make things worse. There’s always a down side to everything, so we must consider everything before making a decision about something this huge.
Think about this. Congress is already rather disconnected from their constituencies, BUT Congress members do fear losing, so they will modify their behaviors to please and appease their constituencies.
What if however, they couldn’t be re-elected? What if, this one restraint was no longer there? What would people in Congress do with such freedom?
That freedom, my friends, is what we’d reap should we implement term limits. If we limit a member’s number of terms in office then that means they will eventually serve a final term. Guess what that means? That means that for that final term in office, that member has no reason to care about what their constituency wants, and NO motivation to restrain their votes and behaviors to please their voters.
Why? Well, they can’t be re-elected.
Dangerous, very dangerous.
5. The Root of the Problem
I think, as Americans, we have to really face that the root of the problem of incumbency and career politicians does not fall at the feet of the politicians or the system.
It falls at our own feet.
You see, term limits won’t make the citizenry more involved or more educated. In fact, term limits is rather insulting to the American public. It insinuates that we are not capable of providing term limits of our own every single election, based on the success (or lack thereof) of our sitting representative or Senator.
The problem is us.
We re-elect the same people over and over and over again. We’ll do the same with term limits; it’s just, this time, we’ll have legislators sitting in government who don’t have to worry about pleasing us for that final term—because something tells me, they’ll always make it to that final term.
Listen friends, if we want to bring change, we must be that change. We have to stop sitting back and letting things happens in politics. We’re responsible. Every single American is responsible for the way our government operates. Yes, even the Americans who don’t vote and the ones who do. We all play a role in in how our government operates. Preserving and promoting liberty is our responsibility.
Government is created to restrain the people from destroying ourselves and our private property and in turn, the people must restrain the government—via the Constitution.
But how can we restrain the government if we are not educated enough to vote our local representatives out of office? Especially when we claim to hate the people who represent us?
So, whatever your views on term limits, the unfortunate reality is—nothing can really change the root of the problem but us. An uneducated, uninformed and uninvolved American citizenry is not the fault of the politicians (it can be taken advantage of by the politicians but it is not their fault), it is the fault of the American citizenry.
We’re ALL responsible.
Maximilien de Robespierre, of the French Revolution beautifully stated: “The secret of freedom lies in educating people, whereas the secret of tyranny is in keeping them ignorant.”
Hitler would agree about his statement on tyranny. He said: “How fortunate for leaders that men do not think.”
Fortunate indeed. But we can change that. We still have the ability to think. Change starts with each single individual. We’re all a part of the beautiful and messy American experiment. Not a single one of us can simply “opt out” without affecting everything and everyone else.
John F. Kennedy said this.
“The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.”
Yes it does, friends. Yes it does.
The Liberty Belle
4 thoughts on “Term Limits: Five Points to Consider”
Well, my first point is that I absolutely agree that WE, the American People are the problem. We are ill-informed, ignorant and lazy. However, to assume that, in an age where the disease of Liberalism has nearly a complete stranglehold on the education system ("Abolish the DOE!"…but that is another rant), the American People will just suddenly decide that they will now become educated and involved, and by doing so, hold our representatives accountable via the election booth, is fool-hardy.
Term Limits is no the answer in and of itself, however, I think that it is a part of the solution. Remember, our Founders envisioned a Gov’t of citizen servants who left their professions to serve the Gov’t that allowed for their success. These servants of the people would serve their (non-specified) time and return to their private lives and professions. Term Limits would make this ideal a reality and there is something else that it would do. It would encourage people who have great ideas to have a chance to bring them to the forefront – people who now feel that they have no chance of survival in the cutthroat world of politics. I think this would provide a much needed infusion of thought and ideas into our political process.
As I stated, however, Term Limits are not enough. We must also restrict politicians from serving in Lobbyist position for a period of time after their service (let’s say 10 years) and restrict Lobbyist from becoming politicians in the same manner. This would dissolve many of the political spiderwebs of corruption.
Lastly, we would be much better off if we could begin to dismantle the unconstitutional Federal Gov’t and returning powers to the States…things like the aforementioned DOE, for example. I will not go further into this as it is not the topic of this blog, but this and the things mentioned above would diminish some of the pathways of corruption and unconstitutional regulation of the bureaucracy and make lifetime political positions a little less attractive.
It is almost a moot point, however, because Congress will NEVER vote themselves less power or a limitation on their time to stay in power. There is only ONE way that this can happen and that is an Article V Convention of States. We are a long way off from seeing that ever become a reality, but it is, in my opinion, the only path to reign in these problems, mandate balanced budgets, return States powers, etc.
Excellent points! You’re exactly right. Federal government positions used to be considered temporary and a public service, while most of the work was done at the state level. We’ve completely warped that original founder intention.
I understand why people want term limits as it is a potential bandaid on a mortal wound. But that’s just it. It’s a bandaid on a mortal wound, a wound that will eventually lead to the death of liberty unless it is addressed.
I’m very hesitant and skeptical of Congress should they no longer be accountable to us in that last term. That almost frightens me more than the career corruption we’re seeing now. But, then again, I may be wrong. Term limits may be the best route! Which is why WE the people must be able to discuss and debate these types of questions to see which risk is greater.
Thank you for your thoughtful and thought provoking comment!
I do take issue with the fear stated that term limits will result in setting a very dangerous precedence where those leaving office can do as they please. I may be a bit naive but I think that political candidates under a term limit system will likely be seeking office to help their constituents not hurt them or take advantage of them. Just as Presidents have done and are expected to do. Many of these ex-senators and house members will be returning home to their states and communities and to their families and friends where they will be esteemed for their service but also will face accountability by their constituents and peers. The danger of a rogue elected official doing harm or acting completely in a self serving way is real but even that can be nullified by the newly elected officials and they can still be held accountable for their actions by law and threat of civil action. Another safeguard would be to stagger Congressional elections so that exiting representatives never are able to achieve House or Senate control.
Loved the Blog.
I really like your article, perhaps because it makes the same argument found at my blog, the Neo-Prog Blog at neoprogz.com. It uses public choice analysis as the point of departure in explaining why we need a congressional term limit amendment. Afterall, we have one for the executive branch, a congressional equivalent would only be a logical complement.