Thursday, November 05, 2009

Reboot revisited: To Think Or Not To Think - That is the Term Limit Question

This post has grown out of my previous, carefully worded, cool headed post (er… rant) against the “Reboot Congress” and “Term Limits” crowd, and I think I need to bring some of the commentators points up to the surface. In the comments, Mxdg replied to me that,

“…Maybe voting them all out won't work and most likely will hurt but you haven't convinced me that term limits are a bad thing. The pipe dream of people learning about positions of pols and how it effects the country and voting responsibly, while being something I would dearly love to see, is just that, a dream.”

I replied, in part that, due to the reams of existing regulations, regulatory agencies, laws and byzantine committees, sub committees and ad hoc committees... which are in place before a rep arrives in D.C., and which continue on during and after their terms have ended; not to mention the gazillion measures and bills striving for their attention, and the importance of knowing which influential person favors which… the 'legislator', especially the new representative, has to rely upon their aides who have experience in the capital, those who make up the local bureaucracy, to tell the new member who supports what, what he should support, and what he should oppose, and what it is that the bills themselves actually mean (their having grown too long to be able to bother with actually reading them(!)).

It is only through experience, favors done and returned, connections made, gained and strengthened over time, that a legislator can hope to get to the point that they can themselves begin to steer the course of their office and their vote.

If we pass a law to substitute for our vote, to override our ability to make an intelligent choice between candidates on our own; not only do we enshrine stupidity into the electoral process (not only will good and bad both be turned out, but even the possibility to make an intelligent decision between them will be ruled out), but the weak legislator will be replaced by even more powerless ones who have no possibility of attaining any significant understanding and influence of their own, and the result will be that those who 'aide' the process, career minded bureaucratic aides focused on their own long term futures, influence and power, will become even more needed by our ‘elected’ representatives, ever more relied upon and powerful, than they now are.
The elected representative, who can’t serve more than two terms, would become a mere figurehead, having not even the possibility of ever attaining actual power over the process.

In short, if you think it's bad now, while legislators and their aides still actually care about the results of elections, imagine what it will be like when those who have the actual power will have been permanently entrenched, and won't give a rat’s ass who wins.

The problem is NOT in the number of terms that our elected representatives are allowed to seek, it is in the existing regulations, regulatory agencies, laws and byzantine committees, sub committees and ad hoc committees, concerned with things congress has no constitutional authority to be concerned with, which We The People have allowed and even encouraged, to entrench itself in Washington D.C.; what allowed them to take root, what waters and fertilizes them and cross pollinates them, is the fact that we allowed our govt to interfere in the free enterprise system, to make ‘safe’ decisions for us, by law, so that we could shuck some of our own personal responsibility – a veritable dinner gong for the power hungry to rush towards the feeding trough.

Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, even more so than FDR, rang that dinner gong, and along with the complicit and instigating aid of proregressive legal minds such as Oliver Wendell Holmes, and ‘educators’ like Wilson, they established in our society and laws a pragmatic disdain for principle, a disregard for property rights, and a reverence and trust for x-spurts to regulate and supervise the market for us – to replace our own thoughts and choices, with their legal decrees.

No aid, no progress, is going to be made by replacing even more of our ability to choose, with more of their decrees.

Missing The Point
To this, ZZMike replied that
"The argument against term limits is that it takes a few years to "learn the ropes" and get really good at being a Congressman. So by the time you know which way is up, you're out.
The arguments for term limits are Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Ted Kennedy, maybe even Richard C. Byrd, and any number of people who've been there forever."

A common sentiment, but, IMHO, it is missing the real point by a long shot. It is not so much missing the forest for the trees, as missing the trees for the one tree you've got your face pressed up so close to, that the bark is getting stuck in your teeth.

Let me try it this way. I say that the 'no term limits' option is like continuing to taking a slow acting poison, while fighting for the 'enforce term limits' option is like taking lethal doses of cyanide. ZZMike and others take a narrow look at my position and argue that I've got the roles reversed, that it is instead the ‘no term limits’ position that is the lethal dose of cyanide, and ‘enforce term limits’ that is the slow acting poison.

Do you see what’s wrong with that picture? While on one hand I do think they are wrong, that Pelosi & Reid are not foul incumbents because they can win unlimited terms, but because they've enacted rules and regulations that do things like supply defacto financing for incumbents campaigns, through mailers and so forth... but on the other hand, that is missing the real point entirely!

What I'm arguing is, is that that is not the argument! My argument is that it is foolish to argue over which way you'd like to be poisoned, the real argument is that we must stop allowing ourselves to be poisoned at all! Period!

We need to realize that govt is the way it is, because we've allowed it to pass laws that are unreadable, and that subvert or circumvent the constitution, in order to 'make things safe' so we don't have to think for ourselves, so that we can avoid thinking for ourselves, so that each of us is, in light of some group we belong to (worker, consumer, investor, etc), too big and sacred to fail!

Rather than deciding to commit massive time and resources to what would certainly be a multiple year effort in order to pass a constitutional amendment to impose term limits, which at the very best, in my estimation, would only switch out the players while the same game continues on unabated; we should instead choose to commit massive time and resources to publicly examining what it is our constitution actually means (and a sufficient understanding is not that difficult to acquire), how current practices, rules, regulations and agencies are either a-constitutional or flat out un-constitutional, and so we should actively work towards electing representatives who will work towards repealing them brick by brick – and our time and vocal attentions should be focused on keeping a Tea Partyish political 'consumer reports' type eye upon them, holding their feet, and votes, to the fire.

It may indeed be difficult to accomplish this, but no other measure will work, certainly not term limits, they will only distract us from the real issue, and sink us deeper into the constitutional hole we are already in.

Sneaking A Peak
ZZMike also said that the Founders
"… also figured that someone would run for Congress, take time off from the family business (usually a farm), do his bit for a couple of years, then go back home and let somebody else have a shot at it."

At the risk of sounding too ‘Pie in the sky’, if we remove the unconstitutional agencies, rules, regulations and powers from the hands of our legislators, then they will again have a less complicated system and limited scope of concerns; concerns which will not support corrupt aims or opportunities to feather their nests more than their own farms and businesses would offer them, and they might again consider serving in congress to be a worthwhile duty and honor, instead of a long term desire for personal gain.

It is not limited or unlimited congressional and senatorial terms that corrupts politicians or attracts corrupt politicians; it is a system that has been recentered around a corruption of our constitutional republic. Allowing the Fed govt to wield its power in the free market, corrupts both the market and our Govt, and our Rights are trampled in the process.

The free market is based upon incentives, not guarantees; risks, actions and choices freely made, not forced upon them - a free government is based upon impartial laws defined and delimited by a Constitution, which defends the right of its citizens to choose freely.

A free Govt is based upon objective law: lady justice blindfolded, her scales weighing matters without favor or prejudice, in order to dispense Justice – her sword ready to defend the innocent and to punish the unjust.

When Govt and the Free Market intermingle, Lady Justice is made to peek beyond her blindfold, giving unjust favor to those which an influential lawmaker favors, and in turn, the market will use its wealth to invite, bribe and control, the favors of the government, which in turn will use it’s sword to force the market to ‘choose’ it’s favored desires.

The free market is based upon incentives, not guarantees; actions and choices freely made, not forced upon them - a free government is based upon impartial laws defined and delimited by a Constitution, which defends the right of its citizens to choose freely. Allowing the two to mingle, forces ‘choices’ upon us, and dissolves impartiality, and guarantees the corruption of both.

The "Safe Choice" Means No Choice
ZZMike said
"As I remember, one of the reasons the Founding Geezers had Senators sit for longer terms than Representatives is so they wouldn't have to be so dependent on drumming up the vote."
Yes they did... and the 1920's version of 'term limits' was a campaign finance reform that was to 'democratize' the Senate, that would put power 'in the hands of the people', a push for ‘hope and change!’… which was the 17th amendment. It took the election of Senators out of the hands of the locally elected State representatives – in direct opposition to one of the Founding Fathers most deliberately designed hierarchical features of our Constitution, that would ‘cool off’ the passions of the House, into nothing different than a more concentrated version of the House of Representatives with triple the length terms.

Even more than the 16th amendment (Income Tax, The Fed, etc), the 17th amendment has damaged our govt - almost beyond repair.

The Senate was designed to be a deliberative body, several arms lengths removed from the passions of the people, concerned with and answerable to the real concerns and interests of their States and the nation as a whole. Senators were to be elected by their state legislators, those locally elected representatives who were closest to the people themselves (closer even (by presumed district size) than those elected to the House of Representatives). These representatives who the Senators had to earn the votes of, would much more likely be known by, and know the real needs and concerns, of their constituents, and who would choose the best and most experienced representatives from among themselves, or some similarly person of competence and character.

This kept the Senate at several arms lengths from the rabid popular hue and cries of the moment. The popular whims and flash points of the day, which are so easily demagogued, was what the House of Representatives was designed to respond to – the Senate on the other hand, was to be a deliberative body, one which could serve as cooling off chamber, weeding out unwise, populist passions. And it could do so, because it didn’t need to curry favor from the populace, which would be consumed by those popular whims and flash points of the day, but from elected officials who knew the people, but also knew more about the issues themselves and were able to make cooler headed judgments, and see to it that Senators paid more mind to the real substantive concerns of their state. And because the Senate held terms of six years, it would need even less, to be concerned about those hot-button issues.

The 17th amendment was pushed through on similar populist grounds to today’s ‘reboot congress’ and ‘term limit’ mania, it rode a proregressive wave of 'throw the bums out' and 'make them more answerable to us!' demagoguery, spurred on by, ironically enough, corruption in Chicago Style Politics of Illinois, and promised hope and change for the People!

Predictably, what it in fact did, was make it almost guaranteed that Senators would have to mug for pictures, kiss babies and zoom around the state to be seen as much as possible, and heard saying less and less of substance, and worse, it made them answerable NOT to a handful of knowledgeable members of state legislators, who themselves were plugged into not only the peoples concerns, but the more valid concerns of the state as a whole - it made them have to sell themselves to passionate interest groups across the state, it made them have to stage huge campaigns, and it made it necessary for Senators to spend huge amounts of time catering to the whims of interest groups and those few who most influenced them – it guaranteed that no Senator could ever really know the constituents who would elect them - and vice versa.

Rather than give power to the people, it made them more anonymous and powerless.

The Real Point
The real point, is that a republic requires a carefully structured and delimited government rooted in and bound by a written constitution, representative of and answerable to, a moral, principled, people, who are not only willing to pay attention to the issues and carefully elect their representatives, but who understand that it is their duty as citizens, to do so.

Arguing that we are no longer that people, and so we must consume more and more poison, is an insane plan to restore the health of the Republic.

We must educate ourselves; we must encourage our neighbors to become educated as well. We must seek to remove the responsibility of educating our children, from those who are teaching them the exact opposite of what they need to know – the pragmatism (ala John Dewey, the founder of modern diseducation) – and return the responsibility of educating children to parents who will seek an education for them that is rooted in the principles our Founders understood, and which enabled them to write our Constitution.

That process cannot be shortened, the burden cannot be reduced, by legislating short cuts.

Think... or be prepared to be told what to think.


Unknown said...

Wow! I actually totally agree with you on this, well done and well said and even better your explanation for no term limits make actual sense. My question is what do we do to get back to what was originally intended? Do we repeal the 17th amendment? Is that possible?

mxdg said...

An educated and concerned electorate? We are discovering there are some out there.
Unfortunately we have far too many of the people sucking off the teat provided by those in power with no easy way to ween them off in a world where political correctness is revered and honesty and principles are not only discouraged but punished.
Repealing an amendment won't change that.
You make a great arguement and I thank you for the fine read. I'd like to digest it for awhile.
Do you actually think we can go back and if so then how?

Van Harvey said...

Lance said "Wow! I actually totally agree with you on this..."

Ooh man... I've already got enough to worry about from pigeon droppings, what's gonna happen with all these pigs flying overhead?


"Do we repeal the 17th amendment? Is that possible"

Oh, certainly it is possible, just as the 18th amendment, Prohibition, was repealed, the 17th can be as well.

While I'd be thrilled to see that happen, there's a bit of educatin' to be done first.

"My question is what do we do to get back to what was originally intended?"

Apart from what I'm going to say in a longwinded reply I'm about to post in reply to Mxdg, what is needed is understanding the Constitution, understanding how the political process can be affected (check out the better Tea Party movements, St. Louis has a good one, over and above the protesting (which has limited useful mileage beyond letting people know they are far from alone) they are doing things like letting people know how they can make calls for candidates, etc), and more.

I'm going to get to a post on this, specific things we normal people can do, I think around the end of November... stay tuned.

Van Harvey said...

Mxdg said "Do you actually think we can go back and if so then how?"
Go back? No, that is not possible.

But why is it considered that going forward is not possible?

Or looking at it another way, we have already gone back... not to anything idyllic, obviously, but from the greatest point of progress mankind has yet achieved, from a largely literate, moral (not prissy, moral), people (with very, very few schools) who discussed the latest Federalist & Anti-Federalist papers amongst themselves on street corners and in pubs, as some of us do with must see TV or blog postings, today....

We have fallen back from that peak... why is it so hard to think we can manage to climb another?

Yes we have lost a critical understanding of what freedom and liberty and Rights are and mean... but there was once a time that we didn't know them at all, or have any history to refer back to when people did understand them... why shouldn't it be easier for us to learn them anew?

People want someone to follow - I don't mean that in a sheeple way, but they want someone who knows what they're talking about, and have a plan. What I see in the Tea Parties, are huge numbers of people who are starting to realize, with a shock, that they themselves, can be that person!

People are reading the Constitution who never did in school, who never had the slightest interest in it before in their lives, they are reading about the constitution, about the Founders like Adams and so forth. People are reading books like Levin's "Liberty and Tyranny" (I've got some quibbles with that, I absolutely do NOT revere jurists like Bork who once compared the 9th & 10th amendments to meaningless 'ink blots on the parchment of the constitution', and Scalia I've difficulties with as well (though I rank him far above Bork)), but look at the blogosphere... look at us... people are discussing and arguing about the Constitution, about Rights, about what is proper and not proper for govt to do... something IS stirring.

People, I think the vast majority of the population, who for decades felt they had no voice, could not really do anything, who didn't really suspect the need to do much more than roll their eyes at politically correct foolishness while thinking to themselves "after all, it's just silliness - infuriating, but harmless", these people are being suddenly shocked awake and aware that it is not harmless, that it IS wrong, and most surprisingly of all - to themselves - they are discovering that they weren't the only ones to think it, and that they can do something about it!

(annoying blogger 4k character break)

Van Harvey said...

Ask those daft GOP honcho's who selected a candidate for NY23, if they still think that We The People are powerless!

This is an amazing thing... as I've said for some years now, I don't think anyone has the slightest clue how historically huge a development that the blogosphere is. If you look back in time to the period of England's Glorious Revolution, or even our own, you'll find a period of, say twenty years prior to actually sparking into revolt, what began as a small sprinkling letters being circulated about and of 'Broadsides' popping up across the cities (their similarity in style, tone and content to blogpost's would make you gape, that were tacked up about town), and discussion groups in 'coffee houses' and pubs. An idea of liberty, of man's Rights began to take hold... where it never had before, amongst the people.

If such ideas can take root, could and did take root amongst a people who for centuries were told that they should serve their King and shut up about it... why is it so hard to believe that we, with all the amazing tools of the internet to access information, to communicate across the entire nation and organize each other, why is it so hard to believe that we can also discover what is Right and True... and as an indescribable advantage over those people centuries before us, we not only have proof that the ideas work, but our govt is already founded upon them!

We only need to learn the ideas - and I stress they are not that difficult to understand - sure there are depths and intricacies which may take years or even a lifetime to fully understand, but that level of understanding, though worthwhile to some, is not necessary to grasping their nature and application.

If someone were to read through the sections of the Constitution I've linked to, and read just one or two links under each section (scroll down a little and click on the Preamble, you'll see what I mean), they would develop the beginnings of a very strong understanding of their constitution and their own Rights which it is designed to protect.

It does not require us to go back, only forward... and yes we can do that!

xlbrl said...

Term limits. Founders. All bets are off, my very good man, were the Founders to see this. And in their own day, they were learning also. So great a man as Franklin foresaw great effeciency in the unicameral legislature and Pennsylvania was alone in trying it. But Franklin was horrified at the result, and the bicameral legislature became one of Americas gifts to democratic republics.

Hamilton wanted the Senate to be appointed for life, and represented through those who believed only wise and excellent men such as himself to be capable of keeping the government out of the hands of scoundrels and petty interest. Adams saw it differently: "The rich, the well born, and the able, acquire an influence on the people that will soon be too much for simple honesty and plain sense, in a house of representatives. The most illustrious of them must, therefore, be separated from the mass, and placed by themselves in a senate; this is, to all honest and useful intents, an ostracism."

And Madison, "I am unable to conceive that the people of America, in their present temper, or under any circumstances which can speedily happen, will choose, and every second year repeat the choice of who would be disposed to form and pursue a scheme of tyranny or treachery....who would either desire or dare.... to betray the solemn trust committed to them. What change of circumstances time, and a fuller population of our country may produce requires a prophetic spirit to declare, which makes no part of my pretensions."
"Besides the conclusive evidence resulting from this assemblage of facts that the federal Senate will never be able to transform itself, by gradual usurpations, into an independent and aristocratic body, we are warranted in believing that is such a revolution should ever happen from causes which the foresight of man cannot guard against, the House of Representatives, with the people on their side, will at all times be able to bring back the Constitution to its primitive form and principles. Against the force of the immediate representatives of the people nothing will be able to maintain even the constitutional authority of the Senate, but such a display of enlightened policy, and attachment to the public good, as will divide with that branch of the legislature the affections and support of the entire body of the people themselves."

And in the How Times Have Changed Department, Mr. Hamilton again: ".....the judiciary...will always be the least dangerous to the political rights of the Constitution; because it will be least in a capacity to annoy or injure them. The executive not only dispenses the honors but holds the sword of the community. The legislature not only commands the purse but prescribes the rules by which the duties and rights of every citizen are to be regulated. The judiciary, on the contrary, has no influence over either the sword or the purse; no direction either of the strength or of the wealth of the society, and can take no active resolution whatever."
No need to remind anybody what Jefferson thought of that. Miners and sappers.

The argument that long-termers are needed to counter entrenched interests in permanent government has never--not once--raised fear in permanent government. Experience shows them that this is a winner. Look what happened to the '94 Congress.

It is all a moot point without a return to the era cocaine was declared illegal, income tax was declared legal, and government took entire contol of the currency. I needed to be beaten black and blue before I understood that one.

Van Harvey said...

Xlbrl said "It is all a moot point without a return to the era cocaine was declared illegal, income tax was declared legal, and government took entire contol of the currency. I needed to be beaten black and blue before I understood that one."

And that is really what I am saying. The 'term limits' or 'no term limits' are, in my view, distractions from the real problem. But... to go on being distracted by them for just a moment, I am not saying that it would be a bad thing if most rep's cycled out after two terms or so, by either their choice, or ours. What I am saying is, passing a law to override our ability to choose, is, enforced Stupidity.

More to the point (though still beside it), is the fact that the elected official is only the visible 1/3 of the officeberg, the real mass of the thing, and the portion that sinks our ship of state, is the 2/3 bureaucracy that operates below the waves. At this point in time, that 2/3 does have a stake in the visible office holder, their careers are to a great part hitched to which ever face is elected to the office. If it becomes a done deal that the rep will be there no more than four years, if that, their long term career interests will no longer be attached to the office holder, they will do plenty of nodding and rah-rahing to him, but continue to direct the flows of power beneath the waves, as much out of his reach as possible. The office holders ability to do anything that bucks the wishes and desires of the bureaucracy, will be negligible.

IOW, far from fixing things, Term Limits will only exacerbate the problem of entrenched power structures, and further remove them from the control of the people.
(annoying blogger 4k character break)

Van Harvey said...


Now, to the point, and in line with your last comment, the terms are not themselves the problem, the corrupt power structure IS. What makes the power structure tend to even more corruption than was originally, and unavoidably, present in our government, is the incentives and opportunities for the power structure to exercise it's power, and reap rewards from it.

If Charlie Rangle, or... [insert your favorite figure from the right here] was not able to pass tax laws that favored one business or another, he (whoever) would not be enjoying off the books Caribbean vacation homes and bank accounts or multiple attached rent controlled apartment living at the peoples expense for twenty or thirty years.

The office, and number of terms it can be held, is not the problem... what we have enabled the office holder (or those who control it) to do, that is the problem!

The agencies, IRS, FED, FDA, SEC, EPA, HUD, EDU, etc, are the access points, the rebar of the lower 2/3 of the officeberg, through which business and govt corrupt each other to their own purposes. If they are not rooted out, NOTHING WILL CHANGE OR HELP!

I believe that the necessary steps towards deleting them that must be taken, are
One, a large enough, vocal enough, swath of the people need to educate themselves about the nature of our constitution, and how it is being subverted. Happily (and hopefully no mere pipedream), the Tea Party movement seems to be fitted quite well for this purpose.
Two, those people need to take an active sunshine disinfectant role in the political process, as with NY23, rooting out those officials and candidates, of either party, who operate in opposition to the proper purposes of our constitutional republic.
Three, there are two amendments, that need to be repealed, the 17th (election of Senators), and the 16th (IRS), probably in that order, but probably not necessarily so.

Pretty much a corollary to 'One' above, is that our educational system must be scrapped, done away with, abandoned. It already is regarded as a joke... few of the students are fooled into thinking they are taught anything worthwhile (which breeds cynicism, and even worse disease than political correctness), more and more of the parents are thinking the same. That doesn't require federal level action (though the Dept of Edu would of course need to go), that's got to happen on the local and parental level, and very likely needs to occur in some measure, before any of the three steps above can be carried out.

ZZMike said...

I admit to taking a narrow view of term limits. On the other hand, like the old lawyer joke, it would be a good start.

The problem, of course, is that while Congressmen can be "unelected", lobbyists - and especially "special advisors to the President" (cleverly named "czars" by the media - cannot.

I suspect that what happened to the newly-elected Congressman Bill Owens (D-NY) is that before the election, he told everybody he was against the bill. Then when he got elected, a few people talked to him and explained the facts of Washington life. Now he's for the bill, and the people who voted for him are sore amazed.

The problem is that this problem has been growing for years. About 200 years. It wasn't too long after the country got going when the Supreme Court started making rulings that gave more power to the Federal Government.

The Federalist Papers were written to get people to agree on a Constitution with a strong Federal government. When King George gave up the colonies, his treaty was with "the 13 United States", not the "one United States". In those days, "state" had a different meaning. A state was an autonomous, self-governing entity (Venice, among others, was a "city state"). The problem was, if somebody in Europe decided to attack Florida, they couldn't necessarily count on help from New York.