EDITOR’S NOTE: Regular readers know that I am a proponent of the Article V Convention of States approach to amending the Constitution to include term limits for members of Congress.
In this latest piece by Contributor Christin McMasters, we are reminded of how even if we amend it, little will change unless we get involved. In the end, the problem isn’t only with the establishment, it’s with us as well.
In a perfect follow up to her previous contribution, What can you do to save America?, I invite you to consider today’s contribution concerning the issue of term limits.
A 2018 survey done by a Republican group, McLaughlin and Associates, found that 82% of all Americans approve of term limits for Congress. Americans favor the idea of amending the Constitution to include them, but why? Here are five points to consider.
Congressional incumbents, on average, will win their re-election seat between 80-90% of the time (93% for House and 82% for Senate). So, of the 535 members in Congress, around 450-500 will be re-elected every two years.
Ironic, when you consider that Congress’ approval levels always hover around 20%. A recent survey found that Congress has an 18% approval rating in 2020. Yup, only 18% of the Americans surveyed approve of Congress right now.
Why the disconnect? Usually, if we don’t like something, we change it.
In theory, if Americans don’t like their representative (18% approval rating), they’d vote them out of office and replace them. That’s the whole point of elections — holding our representatives accountable!
But wait… didn’t I just say that Americans vote for the same representatives 80-90% of the time? Yup, I sure did. American voters, who hate Congress and hold in their hands the ability to change it, keep voting for the representatives they hate over and over again.
YOUR REPRESENTATIVE, NOT MINE
Here’s the thing, most Americans are simply not engaged, informed, or involved in politics. And when they do get a little involved around election time, it’s to the smallest degree possible. They only want to know who their Democrat or Republican representative is so they can vote for them. Usually, incumbents are familiar and safe for Americans who know little else about what is going on politically.
This is why those already in office get reelected over and over. Members of one party blame the other party for the problems in America. The issue with this way of thinking is that we end up with the same Congress again!
WHAT MOTIVATES A CONGRESSPERSON
Concerning term limits, let me ask you a few simple questions that puzzles political scientists all the time. What motivates a member of Congress to behave and vote as they do? Is it money? Is it ideological convictions? Power? Influence? A specific agenda? Career goals?
Political scientists argue that any number of these motivating factors could be influencing members of Congress. However, there is one underlying motivation that all political scientists universally agree motivates every single Senator and House member.
The desire to be re-elected. Right?
If the representative or senator isn’t re-elected, all of these tangential motivations are irrelevant. Maybe they want power. They can’t have that power if they aren’t elected. Or maybe they want to push for a specific bill or issue to be changed. They can’t do that if they aren’t re-elected.
There’s one thing that keeps all of their power moderately in check, no matter how disconnected they might become: YOU! The power of the voter motivates them more than anything else.
The fear that they could lose their election motivates and drives them to do whatever they can to keep their seat and their access to power. They may represent the safest district in America, but they still notice what their constituency is doing. They don’t want to slip up and lose like other members of Congress in safe districts have done before.
These politicians might go to Congress and become disconnected career politicians, but no matter how safe they think they are, WE still have the power. They know we have the ability to take them out, which is why their behavior and their votes are still restrained.
They sound nice. If we amended the Constitution to include term limits, maybe we’d stop having so many disconnected career politicians. Maybe we could start sending some new people into Congress who will see things differently and stop playing the game. Maybe we could change Congress for once rather than having the same 90% re-elected every 2 years.
Or maybe term limits will just make things worse. There’s always a down side to everything, so we must consider this possibility before making a decision about amending the Constitution.
Think about this. Members of Congress are already rather disconnected from their constituencies, BUT they still fear losing, which means they will modify their behavior to appease their constituencies.
What if, however, they couldn’t be re-elected? What if this one restraint was no longer there? What would our representatives do with such freedom? That freedom is what we’d reap should we implemented term limits.
If we amended the Constitution to limit a representative’s number of years in office, they will eventually serve a final term. That means that for their final term in office, they wouldn’t have a reason to care about what their constituency wants. Their would be NO motivation to restrain their votes and behavior to please their voters because they can’t be re-elected!
Dangerous, very dangerous.
THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM
As Americans, I think we have to face the reality that the root of the problem of incumbency and career politicians doesn’t fall at the feet of the politicians or the system. It falls at our own feet.
Amending the Constitution to include term limits won’t make the citizenry more involved or more educated. In fact, term limits are in some ways insulting to the American public. It insinuates that we are not capable of providing term limits of our own every single election.
The problem is us! We vote in the same people over and over and over again. It will be the same with term limits, only we’ll have representatives sitting in office who don’t have to worry about pleasing us for that final term. Because something tells me, they’ll always make it to that final term.
If we want to bring change, we must be that change. We have to stop sitting back and letting things happen. We’re responsible — every single American — for the way our government operates. Americans who don’t vote and the ones who do all play a role in in how our government operates. Preserving and promoting liberty is our responsibility.
Government was created to restrain the people from destroying ourselves and our private property and in turn, the people must restrain the government via the Constitution. But how can we restrain the government if we are not educated enough to vote our local representatives out of office? Especially when we claim to hate the people who represent us!
Whatever your views on term limits, the unfortunate reality is only we can really change the root of the problem. An uneducated, uninformed, and uninvolved American citizenry is not the fault of the politicians. They can take advantage of the situation, but it is not their fault. We’re the ones responsible.
Maximilien de Robespierre of the French Revolution beautifully stated, “The secret of freedom lies in educating people, whereas the secret of tyranny is in keeping them ignorant.”
Hitler would agree with his statement on tyranny when he said, “How fortunate for leaders that men do not think.”
Fortunate indeed. But we can change that. We still have the ability to think. Change starts with the individual. We’re all a part of the beautiful and messy American experiment. Not a single one of us can simply “opt out” without affecting everything.
John F. Kennedy once said, “The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.”
Yes it does, friends. Yes it does.
This article has been edited. It originally appeared on The Liberty Belle and is used by permission.
Christin McMasters is a South Carolinian now residing in North Carolina and has a Ph.D. in political science. She is a budding blogger and political science instructor, and her passion is politics.
Using her keyboard as her weapon of choice, Christin imparts some of her excitement, passion and knowledge about American government on her website, TheLibertyBelleNC.com.