In recent years the calls have grown louder for federal legislators to be subject to term limits.  The numbers attached to the limitation varies, but the principle is the same: representatives and senators can only serve “x” number of years regardless of their performance and irrespective of their constituents’ desire to send them back to Washington, D.C.

People are not happy with Congresses performance.  Congressional approval rarely rises above a quarter of the population.  The different reasons given for the need for term limits are understandable; whether it is: the advantages derived from incumbency, Congressmen becoming too comfortable in D.C., Congressmen playing the system for personal gain, corruption in politics, and a variety of other legitimate reasons.

Most of the reasons I have heard I agree with, my disagreement lies in the solution to the problem.

Replace the problem with something else.  Anything of your choosing.  If the proposed solution would be for the government to regulate it would you be for that method of fixing the problem?

term limits 2Any government action that limits my ability and your ability to choose who represents us is a statist solution.  Sure, it solves the problem, but at the cost of expanding government power over our ability to pick a representative of our choosing.  How is that a conservative solution?  The simple and obvious answer is that it is not.

Yes, term limits would rid us of some meddling congressman who seek to expand government power whenever possible.  However, I think it is often forgetten that for every Sheila Jackson-Lee that has to leave, so too will a Justin Amash be forced out.

I would love to see the gerontocracy of D.C. erased to allow for younger and more promising stars to rise, but not at the cost of allowing the government to impose it’s decrees on our ability to make our own decisions.

The government cannot pass enough laws to keep us from having bad representation.  That responsibility falls on us as voters.  If we want to, we can term limit our representative and our senators when they are up for reelection.  We can send them home when we choose and we can send them back when we chose to.  We do not need government to tell us when we have had enough of that particular congressman.

We may be happy with our own congressman, but disgusted by the representatives others choose to send to D.C., but that’s their choice.  If they choose to elect a fool at least it is the fool of their choice.  If we grow tired of seeing that fool then we can move to their district and vote against them or work towards getting that fools opponent elected.  If we submit and count on the government stepping in by imposing term limits we are losing a larger battle: limiting government scope and power.

We would also be faced with a new problem: the lame duck congressman who would not be bound by the considerations of public opinion because they are not able to run again.  Their decisions would be unchecked by the concern that if they take a certain action, propose a certain law, or vote a certain way they will be fired.  Though I am no constitutional scholar, I believe among the reasons why the House is elected every two years is to ensure their responsiveness to the desires of their citizens.  A term limited representative would be free from the bonds of their constituents and if we think congress is bad now, wait until the first wave of term limited congressmen who are seeking to secure their own future and have nothing tying them to their constituents other than an address.

Term limits do not fix the underlying problem, but merely a symptom of a problem of large and powerful government.  If we worked towards making government as inconsequential in our daily lives as I and many others believe the founders intended it to be then there would not be a need to run out corrupt and disingenuous career politicians who are making a profit by “serving.”  Those interested in personal gain would realize that a government job is not the place where that is possible.

A term limit amendment is a solution, but not the best one.  We have been equipped with the best solution for bad representation: the ballot box.  We are being inconsistent in our political philosophy when we seek solutions from the government rather than ourselves.

This, among other so called conservative policy proposals begs the question of whether we really do want a smaller, less powerful government, or whether we just want a smaller, less powerful government on certain things we pick and choose, or if we only want a smaller, less powerful government when we are the ones not in control of the government.

Kenneth Depew | University of St. Thomas | @DepewK