I don’t like to get involved in a back and forth on issues on which I blog, but when someone comments on what I say, I want them to begin their comments by correctly stating what I said.
In this case, John Hrabe commented on my position on Proposition 28 by saying I was saying that the founding fathers would have opposed term limits. I said nothing of the sort.
My comments began with my analysis of the effects of term limits in the Legislature right now, from my personal observations.
This is where I agree with John. The process corrupts even the best of us. That, however, is normal. We are all human, and it takes a person of incredible moral insight and strength to avoid the temptations of political office. There are lines of people who wait to feed the egos of politicians, and, unfortunately, too many of those politicians fall victim to the ego strokes. The good news is, however, is that a politician who does fall victim to those temptations has to face the voters, and if it gets too bad, they will lose.
Unfortunately, the special interests who feed the politician’s ego don’t face the voters, and don’t really care who is in office. As long as the politician serves their interest, they are content to see faces change every few years. They then feed the ego of the newest pretender, and the siren song of power and influence for that new face is played to obtain that new person’s cooperation in the power structure.
Why did I refer to the Federalist No. 10? Not because I thought it proved the founders would oppose term limits, but rather to show the wisdom of Madison. He is absolutely correct that the most important problem that any structure of government must address is the problem of factions, those special interests who are constantly attempting to turn the wheels of government in their direction. A structure of government that aids in solidifying the power of factions is dangerous to freedom. Those factions will usurp liberty, and use the power of government to benefit themselves.
It is my humble opinion that the current system of term limits in effect in California feeds that tendency for the reasons I discussed in my article. I don’t know if the founders would agree with that observation or not. It was something I saw, and I believed then, and believe now, that this system of term limits is not serving the conservative principles I believe in. My only reference to the Federalist was to reinforce the basis of my conclusion, not to call forth the wisdom of Madison to oppose term limits. I would not be so presumptuous.
Yes, power corrupts. Yes, private ambition is a danger, and the longer someone stays in office, the more likely that person is to give in to private ambition. Those tendencies are natural though and will be a problem in any system of government. It is not a defense of term limits to say that power corrupts. The goal, as Madison says, is to structure the system so that it militates against, not reinforces, the tendency of power to corrupt, as I believe this system of term limits does. The proof is in the facts in the Legislature. Politicians don’t want to go back and live under the laws they make, they want to enhance their power. As the growing influence of government unions have shown, those outside the Legislature use that ambition to their own ends. Term limits, as currently constituted simply make politicians more susceptible to that corrupting influence.
Yes, some conservatives lose their way when they stay in office a long time. Others don’t. Quite frankly, Tom McClintock has spent his entire adult life in elective office, yet he still stands for the principles in which I believe, consistently, on a day to day basis. There are many others. Term limits take them away from us without cause. I wouldn’t say what I said, however, for that reason alone. No one in public office is irreplaceable (no matter what they think of themselves). However, a system that reinforces the power of factions, giving them a greater control of the levers of government is a system to be avoided. And I think term limits, as presently constituted, do just that.
I share John’s frustration with elected officials. I knew many of them, and observed many of the problems he noted. However, I also know that people are people. It is systems, not individuals, that determine outcomes. The idea is to design a system that counters the natural tendencies of people. In my opinion, the system of term limits, as presently constituted, reinforces bad behavior. My opinion on this comes from my personal observation of what occurred in the Legislature before and after term limits took effect. It is not borne out of a reading that says the Federalist Papers supports or opposes term limits. It is simply my conclusions, from applying the facts I saw in the middle of the battle, using the principles I learned as a person committed to protecting the liberties of the people who elected me. Are there ways to counter the power of factions? Absolutely. Are term limits, as presently constituted, one of them? In my most humble opinion, they are not.