By Jackson Bakich
The Founding Fathers were brilliant. We can debate their personal actions, but what we cannot debate is the effectiveness of the government they created. Spanning only 247 years, the United States has become a world superpower in a very short amount of time by history’s standards. I do have a critique, however, of the system they’ve created. That critique is their failure to include term limits in their (still rather successful) system of government that has liberated millions.
Pioneer of the free world, head honcho of popular culture, world leader of academia, and home to inventors who have radically changed and challenged the status quo of the human experience.
That is America.
You might be asking, though, if America is and always has been so great, and a lack of term limits didn’t stop all the progress made under the current laws of the land, then why change anything?
My response is this: The incredibly long tenures in Washington are mostly a recent phenomenon. Yes, some of the longest-serving politicians were born in the 18th and 19th centuries, but of the 50 longest runs of public service, 24 of them have been by lawmakers who lived to see the year 2000. Eight of them are currently serving.
The Founding Fathers were incredibly concerned with preventing tyranny. The tradition of the peaceful transfer of power in congruence with the tradition of the President stepping down after two terms established by the first President, George Washington, and the second President, John Adams provided a blueprint. This blueprint, based on the idea that there was humility to public service ended when Franklin Delano Roosevelt ultimately won four terms. Congress then ratified the 22nd Amendment in 1951, capping a president to two terms, and codifying the tradition.
However, members of Congress in both chambers, the House of Representatives and the Senate face no such predicament.
They can serve as long as they are elected. With this in mind, members of Congress can play the long game. They do not need to solve problems immediately with the American people’s interest at heart.
The American people know this, and that’s why according to a Gallup poll, Congress’ approval rating rests at 17%. 82% do not approve of the job Congress has done.
With these figures in mind, you might be asking: If the vast majority of the American people disapprove of Congress, then why don’t the people just vote out their representatives to fix the problem?
I’ll tell you why.
According to the same Gallup poll, 53% of registered American voters believe their representative should be reelected. What does this mean? It basically means the American electorate believes something along the lines of “It’s not my representative, it’s everybody else’s. It’s the other legislators that other Americans have voted for and elected that have caused the sluggishness and ineffectiveness of the governing body,” or something along those lines.
I am not calling for a total institutional change of Congress. I am not calling for every incumbent to resign or not be reelected. There are plenty of great U.S. legislators who are honorable, do a good job, and have the American people’s interests at heart.
Moreover, it goes deeper than just the American people’s opinions of their representatives. Incumbents have a significant advantage to their challenger counterparts. Their campaign funds “rollover” as they can use the funding raised from their previous campaign for their next campaign. They also benefit from the crucial name recognition that politicians need when they stroll into voting booths and pick a candidate.
So, what does this system create? It creates a system in which politics becomes a career. It creates a system in which the public serves its representatives, rather than the representatives serving the public and their constituents.
In the U.S. House, a total of 25 incumbents lost in 2022. There are 435 seats up for election every election cycle. That means roughly 83% of incumbents were victorious in their reelection efforts.
Incumbents know they have a very high chance of reelection. With this in mind and without term limits and the current election financing laws, officeholders can take 40 years to solve a problem. They can keep running on the problems that need to be fixed. As the polling demonstrates, their constituents feel it’s not their fault that problems in the United States aren’t being fixed, it’s Congress as a whole and the other representatives that are causing the inefficiencies in governance.
Six House terms of two years, two Senate terms of six years. No rollovers for election financing. Just these two changes would make elections fairer and make for more motivated public servants.
This will probably never happen, I know. Why would those in power give up their power?
I guess some part of me thinks, prays, and hopes those who’ve been entrusted by the people – deep within their American souls – could be inspired by our Founding Fathers to return to the tradition of humility. A tradition that serves the people as it was intended.
Perhaps the tradition could be codified once again.