America’s first president, George Washington, set a precedent when several months before the 1796 election, he chose to impose on himself two four-year terms, which was adhered to by subsequent presidents as a kind of a gentlemen’s agreement. However, a few presidents tried to secure their party’s nomination for a third term, with Franklin Delano Roosevelt becoming the only one to secure more than the traditional two terms.
FDR not only broke this tradition; he shattered it by being elected to an unprecedented third and fourth terms. In fact, he would have served 16 years as president had he not died early into his fourth term. The 22nd Amendment, which was ratified on February 27th, 1951, solved the presidential term limits issue, but it was originally debated during the 1787 Constitutional Convention when men like George Mason supported term limits while Alexander Hamilton and James Madison favored lifetime appointments. Eventually, it was decided that a president could serve an unlimited number of four-year terms, rather than the one-time seven-year term that was also considered.
Many States Have Them
Currently, 36 states and territories have some form of term limits for their governors, while only 15 limit their legislatures. Sadly, at the federal level, we only limit our presidents but not our vice presidents, which isn’t a major issue. However, not having any form of term limits for members of Congress, Supreme Court Justices, and many judicial appointments is a problem, especially with the growing ideological and partisan divide where government institutions are being increasingly weaponized and used to target American citizens and political foes.
That’s the Way They’ve Always Done it
Certainly, one could make an argument against Term Limits, anyone with half a brain can. However, many who are against Term Limits tend to do a terrible job opposing them and often recite the same obnoxious line “We have Term Limits, they’re called elections” as if this statement is somehow a mic-drop moment. They then proceed to give a shortlist of reasons to back up their battle cry, the two most common reasons I hear are “it takes a while to learn the ropes” and “the only way to be effective is seniority.”
Personally, I don’t know of any other line of work that pays their employees a handsome salary with great benefits, allows them to be dysfunctional, divisive and nearly ineffective for years, all on the promise they’ll magically be effective in later years. Sadly, instead of simply admitting the Legislative Branch needs to be reformed, we essentially hear “that’s the way they’ve always done it” as if this is somehow an acceptable reason not to act. Let’s face it, the Legislative Branch needs to be reformed for a multitude of reasons, but as it stands, those working towards that goal are outnumbered and outspent.
The Real Mic-Drop: A Few Pros
When those who are anti-Term Limits throw out their perceived mic-drop statement of “We have Term Limits, they’re called elections,” the counter to this logic is simple and that is, if we had Term Limits, every Member of Congress would be in the same boat negating the notion that it takes a person serving in office for decades in order to be effective.
As U.S. Term Limits points out, “It would be great if we could just vote the incumbent out. The reality is that congressional members have an insurmountable advantage of power and money that virtually guarantees a lifetime of re-elections.”
Term Limits not only limit an individual’s time in one office, but it also goes a long way Limit Corruption. The longer a person serves in office, the more power and influence they gain by supporting and voting for things that support their own interest and that of their cronies instead of their constituents. Term Limits would go a long way to reduce and/or prevent this type of corruption and the influence of bad actors.
Congress Isn’t a Career nor is any elective office, yet what we see, especially at the Federal level is professional officeholders. This creates a situation where Members of Congress can’t relate to the problems in their own districts as they grow increasingly out of touch with those they’re supposed to represent. Most who enter office do so from only a few professions compared to the rest of society or enter office at a relatively young age which reduces real-life experience. People should be called to serve, enter an office for a short period and fight for their constituents and not the interest of their cronies or for the benefits and pay.
As with any organization, introducing New Ideas can have a positive effect vs doing things the same way over and over and expecting a better result. In the Military as with other government agencies, people come and go on a regular schedule. New leaders bring in fresh ideas that can reinvigorate and help solve problems that have festered. By the time a person has made their mark and begins to stagnate, they rotate out. It works in the Military and would certainly work in Congress.
The Few Cons
Since I’m a fair person, I must admit there are some decent arguments against Term Limits, aside from the aforementioned “We already have term limits. They’re called elections.” Certainly, Members of Congress must face voters every two or six years to get their approval, but some believe Term Limits are Undemocratic because they remove their choice. Term Limits not only removes Bad politicians, but they also remove the Good ones without exception. This indiscriminate removal from office means that those who are trustworthy and effective would have their time in office cut short, taking away gained experience and earned relationships with them.
I could have listed more Pros and Cons, but this article isn’t likely to sway anyone who’s firmly on one side or another. Nor would the joke about diapers and politicians needing to be changed for the same reason. However, my hope is that for those who aren’t committed one way or the other will do their own research. Certainly, Term Limits restricts the number of years politicians may spend in one office, they also help prevent them from amassing too much power and helps prevent the problems caused when elected officials become alienated from their constituents. After all, Congress was never meant to be a career and naturally the longer a person serves in Congress the more out of touch they become. One should come to serve in Congress because they see that their skills, background, and experience would lend itself to providing positive results over a short period. Term Limits would go a long way in keeping out the wrong types of people as some would view a short period in office not to be worth the effort or personally beneficial. Additionally, it would lessen the negative impact bad politicians could have and would help shift the focus towards solving problems and passing better legislation over posturing and always preparing to run for re-election. If we had more people who were like those from the “Greatest Generation” I wouldn’t be concerned with limiting their time in office. However, I’ve come to support Term Limits due to the fact we have a growing “Me Generation” with morals and values becoming passé, where politicians place ideology over facts when formulating legislation.
History Side Note
If you like Presidential history, you might take note that Ulysses S. Grant lost his bid for a third term on the 36th ballot to James Garfield at the 1880 Republican National Convention. Also, like Grant, FDR’s cousin Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt also couldn’t gain party support for what would have essentially been a third term, but he did launch a 3rd party bid in 1912 which paved the way for Woodrow Wilson who in turn hoped he would have been asked to run for a 3rd term when his parties 1920 convention was deadlocked. President Truman was President when the 22nd Amendment was ratified and could have sought re-election in 1952 but he dropped out of the primaries, this would have given him more than 2 terms as would have Lyndon Johnson had he ran for President and been re-elected in 1968.
Todd McKinley is a contributing writer for iVoteAmerica and iVoteTennesee. Todd and his family reside in the great state of Tennessee where he was a candidate for the US House of Representatives in 2018.