Columns

Malik ’18: Term limits might fix our broken government

By
Staff Columnist
Monday, November 7, 2016

The never-ending nightmare that has been the 2016 presidential election might seem like it is finally drawing to a close tomorrow. But as much as it frustrates me to say this, I am not counting on the state of U.S. politics to get any better.  I thought the debt ceiling crisis a few years ago was the lowest national politics would sink. If only I knew that worse partisanship was yet to come — that the future would involve Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Paul Ryan, R-WI, suddenly proving spineless enough to endorse Donald Trump for president or U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, and U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-NC, now vowing to obstruct every single Supreme Court nominee chosen by Hillary Clinton if she becomes president.

The obstruction of these nominees is particularly hypocritical given that these senators blocked the Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland, chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, by arguing that the voices of the American people should be considered through the results of the November election. But just a few months later, they seem willing to stick to party politics and ignore the American people if they elect Clinton.

What can be done to eliminate this ridiculous partisanship before Capitol Hill becomes even more of a horror show? Perhaps the most effective way to reduce this divide is to target the underlying factors behind partisanship. Of course, ideology plays a role, but there are probably also some material motivations involved. One such motivation likely compels our politicians as much as it compels many of us: the desire for job security.

Earlier this summer, Ryan hinted as much when he was criticized for endorsing Trump. He explained that he was pressured by Republican representatives from districts that were strongly supportive of Trump. Other politicans who backtracked on their positions recently, including McCain and Burr, are in the middle of tight reelection races and seem to be pandering to their more partisan constituents. This suggests that these politicians are more preoccupied with keeping office and avoiding political backlash than simply following their convictions.

But if they are serving this nation, politicians should not be so intensely compelled by self-interest; they should actually care about the country. While politicians should definitely pay attention to their constituents, they should also have the flexibility to push back if popular consensus goes against their core values. Yet this seems to require more moral courage than many lawmakers have. That is why we should alleviate their conflicted souls by pushing for a Constitutional amendment that would impose a two- or three-term limit on all members of Congress. That way, lawmakers will not be so concerned with reelection and will instead focus on what is best for the country.

I understand that such a major change in our governmental structure is very unlikely. I am also dismayed by the fact that Gary Johnson and Trump support this measure, both of whom I do not at all support for president.

But I do think that term limits can be helpful for our country. Approximately 91 percent of representatives and senators who ran for reelection in 2012 succeeded in keeping their seats despite the fact that Congress had an approval rating of only 10 percent. Historically, it is rare for less than 90 percent of representatives and less than 80 percent of the Senate to be reelected. As an article in the Huffington Post about the 2012 election explains, primary elections tend to be dominated by members of special interest groups who “reward incumbents for policy favors.” By allying themselves with these special interests and having more campaign and fundraising resources at hand, incumbents have a major advantage over new challengers.

A Constitutional amendment imposing term limits can help ensure that politicians are less able to develop connections with special interest groups, allowing lawmakers to support policies that can be beneficial to broader groups. Limits will also make representatives and senators less beholden to their constituents. If their constituents demand a measure that the lawmakers do not agree with (such as a Trump presidency), then lawmakers in their final term are more likely to resist these demands. Furthermore, a high turnover can bring fresh ideas into Congress. With fewer career politicians, there will be more legislators who are in touch with current problems.

Some might argue that term limits will completely fill Congress with inexperienced members. This is certainly possible, but if term limits are implemented in a staggered way, there will always be more experienced lawmakers working alongside newcomers. Others might think that it is not fair to remove lawmakers from office after years of good service, but many elected positions at different levels of government already have term limits. As Johnson and his running mate Bill Weld pointed out, 36 states impose a limit of two terms on the governor, and one-third of states have term limits on members of their state legislatures. Even the office of the president — the highest position in the government — has a two-term limit.

This might all sound like a pipe dream, and of course Capitol Hill would probably still be divided were term limits imposed. But this measure is supported by many and should be pushed more ardently. According to an October 2016 national survey by Rasmussen Reports, term limits received a 74 percent approval rating from likely U.S. voters — more than ever before.

The results of the survey show the widespread frustration over the federal government and its increasingly partisan politics. Though term limits might be an impossibility for now, something major has to happen soon to change the political system. The current trajectory of the government shows that things are going to get worse. If this continues unchecked, I fear for the stability of our nation.

Ameer Malik ’18 can be reached at ameer_malik@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

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