Term Limits

As history unfolds in Egypt and much of the Arab world, the citizens of the United States should take notice as to why so many people in the Arab world are so frighteningly discontent. This discontentment certainly does not stem only from a lack of democracy and freedom in the Arab world. The discontentment, if we look closely, is informed by at least two aspects: first, an undeniable sense of need on the part of those who are unable to find work that will allow them to live at a descent level. The second aspect, and one that is no less important, is a profound discontentment with certain leaders in the Arab world; leaders who have managed to stay in power for decades.

Although the first aspect is most important, I believe that it is directly related to the second aspect and is in fact, one of its symptoms. That is, corruption at the highest levels of government make it nearly impossible for average citizens to navigate their way through the bureaucratic morass of daily life. As a result, the gap between the haves and the have nots is growing increasingly wide. Now tens of thousands of people in the Arab world are now standing up and shouting that enough is enough.

As I watch these events I cannot help but wonder if such a thing could happen in the United States. We are, in many ways, incredibly frustrated with our own government and its refusal to get past partician politics and get something, anything done. Realistically, a politician is almost always running for re-election. Therefore, at least part of that politician’s attention (a large part) is focused elsewhere. The question then should focus on what those politicians are doing when either running for re-election or stumping for a colleague or his or her party. We have term limits for the office of President, but none for members of Congress. Why?

Some argue that elections themselves are the most democratic way to ensure term limits. This perception is vague and simplistic. Although politicians with the most money don’t always win elections (consider the recent gubernatorial election in California), they do win them most of the time. Therefore, it makes it much easier for an incumbent who has been in office for quite some time to raise the significant funds in order to stay in office. Democracy is not a perfect system, and a healthy democracy should always be evolving. Our system of government has become stagnant and nearly useless. It may be time for a new model, or at the very least, a constitutional convention that will work to update nearly obsolete aspects to so sacred a document.

Civic service is a noble and honorable calling. Every citizen should at some point his or her life run for office and/or work on an election campaign. However, the idea of a career politician is detrimental to the democratic process. How long are we going to listen to the John Kerrys and John McCains, career politicians in every way? Do we really believe that they have our best interests at heart? American politics should not be a career opportunity for those with egos big enough to think that they are somehow entitled to carve out a career in Washington.

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