Term Limits, Please
(Printed in the Towanda Daily Review on 12/28/95.)
Editor: "Politics is broken," was the reason that Senator Bill Bradley gave for his decision to retire when the current session of the U.S. Congress ends. But I disagree with the Senator. Politics and politicians at the state and federal level are operating exactly as expected. However noble or benevolent or honest are the intentions of a fledgling politician, they will be corrupted by our current system. I will explain, then offer a solution.
Our political leaders are selected from the only source available -- us. Those who are ultimately elected must expend large financial sums and make significant personal sacrifices to do so. Thus it seems reasonable to assume that they go into political life willingly. The significance here is that our political leaders are chosen not from some magical pool of benevolent visionaries, but from a pool of self-proclaimed visionaries who happen to have or know how to get the necessary funding, and are more articulate and charismatic than their opponents. The result is the election of someone who is perceived to be the best leader by the majority of voters. Note that 'best' and 'perceived to be the best' are not necessarily the same.
Once in office, the original platform of the official is, or should be, the main priority. I believe that most politicians want to improve our situation and begin with the best intentions. However, only a very small percentage can be described as benevolent visionaries capable of positively changing our lives over the long term. Most are ineffective except at creating an image of being effective.
While in office, and after discovering the momentum of the established bureaucracy, the official most likely will decide that the only way to shift the establishment is gradually, which requires time, which puts a new perspective on reelection, which requires money.
There are many sources of funding for politicians. Some are illegal as witnessed by the recent plight of Ernie Preate. Some are controversial judging from the ongoing investigations of Newt Gingerich. There are numerous other examples. Even if legal, any funding comes with requirements. Special Interest Groups and Lobbyists spend millions to further their agendas. Completely unattached funding is non-existent and stipulations may not necessarily be in the long-term interests of the people.
Thus, it is difficult and expensive to get elected. Once there, however, the incentives of power and prestige seduce mere mortals quite easily. Since incumbency is a tremendous advantage in an election, the priority becomes maintaining it. And the cycle starts. Most of our multi-term officials are experts at one thing -- getting reelected.
My solution is to eliminate reelections and limit terms to four or six years. This will have no effect on ineffective leaders getting elected, but it will prevent them from blocking the rare visionary, and punctuate unending mediocrity with occasional brilliance. This will also have no effect on graft and corruption, but it will spread it around a little more uniformly.
John L. Ferri