did this one in response to the Congressional attempt to impose
term limits on Senators and Representatives.
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CURING DEMOCRACY by Marty Gallanter
"All the ills of democracy can cured by more democracy."
A famous quotation... one I've heard through the years but quoted more lately, especially by those who oppose what had, until election day, been a headlong roll toward term limits. I wondered where the quote originated... was it something said by Jefferson when he presented the Bill of Rights or by Paine in a famous pamphlet?
So I looked in the library and found the phrase attributed to four-time New York Governor Alfred E. Smith, the first Roman Catholic to receive a major party nomination for President and a man whose nickname was "Mr. Democrat." Now I knew why only one party ever used the quote. Smith was soundly defeated by Herbert Hoover in 1928, a man who departed office without the benefit of a term limit. Hoover lost big to Franklin Roosevelt and when Governor Smith spoke this lately often quoted quote, in June of 1933, FDR was living in the White House only a few months into his first of four terms.
You remember FDR. He was the guy for whom term limits were created in the first place, even though he was dead by the time the amendment passed. The Republicans, and conservative Southern Democrats just couldn't face the thought of some other FDR coming along and getting elected three or four times. Humor was delivered by history. The only two Presidents since FDR that probably could have been elected for a third term were both Republicans and conservative... Ike and Ronnie. Not exactly what the amendment framers had planned, but history loves to play jokes. Maybe those guys should have listened to Mr. Democrat Smith. More democracy does not necessarily feed only one political party.
Today's term limit advocates have no particular excuse for ignoring Al's advice. They just do. They're also fond of saying that opinion polls show that 70 percent of Americans favor term limits. Could be true, but only 55% of Americans regularly vote. That means at least part of the people who favor term limits don't bother to caste a ballot against the very people they want to limit. Isn't that sort of like asking the government to solve problems that we are unwilling (not unable) to solve on our own? I thought all those conservatives were against that sort of thing.
In addition, these advocates are beginning to show division when it comes to all the important details. Some are suggesting that term limit laws should not effect those already elected. They can just go on running forever. And these are the same people who criticized Congress for making themselves exempt from the laws they passed. Not one of the advocates seems to suggest that the new rules be retroactive. No one wants to tell the guys who have already served more than 12 years (the most often mentioned number), like Newt Gingrich, Bob Dole, Jesse Helms and virtually all of those now getting ready to head committees, that they are now in their last term. The idea is that the count should start from the first election after the law is passed.
OK... fine... let's say the new law is passed by the 1996 election. Are they suggesting that in the election of 2008, 95% of the Congress will be forbidden to run? Great... all newcomers on the Hill. I thought that no one was particularly happy with the first few months of the Clinton White House with all those novices in charge. Oh, I get it, good idea, let's put Congress in the same boat. That will make the branches of government more equal.
But hold on! There is a solution. Some newly elected representatives can have an edge on their inexperienced competition by hiring the highly experienced staff of their predecessors... especially easy if those people were from the same party? What a good idea. We limit the amount of time are representatives can serve and let the people we don't elect serve forever and actually run things. Don't worry, in 2030 we can work on a constitutional amendment imposing term limits on Congressional staff members.
Is it sounding as silly to you as it does to me. The very same people who ran for office to "get the government off our backs," which they swear means less regulation, want to regulate who can run for office. It's a good thing our founding fathers made the constitution hard to amend or a lot of silly ideas would have gotten through in the passion of the moment.
If term limits had been rule, instead of an idea, our nation would not have been well served by Barry Goldwater, Robert Taft, Hubert Humphrey, Scoop Jackson, or, for that matter Henry Clay. The Grahm-Rudman act would never have passed because we wouldn't have had Grahm or Rudman. Besides, the American people imposed a lot of term limits last November, including the powerful Speaker of the House himself.
I have no doubt that right now a majority of Americans think that limiting the term of those who serve in Congress is a good idea. But the great debate has only just begun. When people begin to realize that we are curing democracy's ills by reducing democracy, they might not be as anxious to make the change.
When the controversy gets going, the wisdom of old Al Smith will speak pretty loud. One does not cure democracy's problems by limiting democracy.
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