Enough already with the foolish push for term limits

NoTermLimits (2)


This Independence Day weekend is as good a time as any to make my fundamental case against the mistaken notion that term limits would help cure some of the nation’s political problems.

Term limits are a terrible idea, as I’ve argued on countless occasions. And on most of those occasions, I’ve invoked the words of Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of modern Republican conservatism (at least he was before the GOP went completely bonkers in recent years).

In his presidential farewell address in 1989, Reagan rightly pointed out that term limits are “a preemption of the people’s right to vote for whomever they want as many times as they want.”

Granted, Reagan was talking in favor of repeal of the 22nd Amendment, which imposes term limits on presidents, but the principle he articulated logically applies to all elected officials. And it’s amazing that more Americans don’t recognize that simple principle:

Legislation or a constitutional amendment that imposes term limits at any level of government would merely diminish the political power of ordinary voters.

Besides, in a sense, we already have term limits. They’re called “elections.” We can invoke them to limit the terms of public officials whenever we want — or not limit the terms, if we so choose. Why would we saddle voters with an arbitrary barrier to their re-electing officials they want to re-elect? After all, unpopular incumbents never get re-elected anyway. The absence of term limits doesn’t force us to re-elect people we don’t want to re-elect.

Term limits also amount to breaking faith with the nation’s Founding Fathers. The drafting of our Constitution was born of an effort to correct the shortcomings of the Articles of Confederation. And the architects of the Constitution specifically omitted term limits, despite their having been included in the Articles.

There are numerous other reasons why term limits are undesirable. They would eliminate the good politicians along with the bad. They would enhance the power of bureaucrats, staffers and lobbyists. They would result in a costly loss of knowledge and experience in government.

But none of that likely matters to the crowd, liberals and conservatives alike,  to whom the recent political squabbles in Washington seem to be a good reason to throw the rascals out.

Oh, well, at least the rest of us can take solace in the fact that only a constitutional amendment, rather than simple legislation, can impose term limits on Congress. Constitutional amendments are not so easily adopted, and the lengthy process might give us time to resurrect Ronald Reagan’s argument against such nonsense.



  1. Supporters of term limits feel it’s a way to send fresh faces with fresh ideas to elected office — and a way to reduce the power of lobbyist and special interest groups by making room for the citizen/legislator, per the intent of our founding fathers. In 1995, our Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that state-enacted term limits for members of Congress were unconstitutional. So there is only one path for the enactment of term limits, a constitutional amendment. In 2008 Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) introduced S.J.R. 21, an amendment that if it had passed would place 3 terms on the U.S. House of Representatives and 2 terms on the U.S. Senate. Since most incumbents don’t favor term limit legislation, the amendment failed. But many voters love term limits. Polling consistently shows support for term limits in the 70 percent range. Major votes to abolish state legislative term limits have been held in California, Maine and South Dakota over the last few years, but overwhelmingly voters defended their state’s term limits law.

  2. Kevin

    Anything Jim DeMint is for, I am against.. Any ideas from South Carolina are tainted by historical and modern day treason.

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