Fun_People Archive
23 May
Term Limits: Dodged a Bullet

Date: Tue, 23 May 95 21:22:37 PDT
From: Peter Langston <psl>
To: Fun_People
Subject: Term Limits: Dodged a Bullet

From: <>

If anyone can doubt the impact of even a single appointment to our highest
court, the Justices have deflected by a solitary vote one of the most
stunningly bad ideas of recent times: term limits. By striking down
arbitrary term limitations for elected officials, the Court has defended
the fundamental right of all American voters to elect the representatives
they choose, for as long as they choose, without interference from a
legislature or anyone else.

I am sure that most supporters of term limits are well-meaning individuals,
properly concerned about the excesses of an ingrown polity fatally beholden
to special interests. If these activists want to be really effective in
changing the balance of power in favor of ordinary citizens, however, it is
time for them to change course. It is time to recognize artificial
term-limits as a quick-fix, diversionary sideshow, one that treats symptoms
alone, and leaves the underlying pathology of our electoral system to
worsen. It is time for term-limit activists to turn their considerable
energies to attacking the disease itself, to wit: the money.

It is a truism of political life that big money is like water, finding its
way through the tightest cracks in the system. As our recent history has
amply demonstrated, uncontrolled political spending dampens open discourse,
dilutes the terms of debate, and ultimately drowns the voices of ordinary
citizens in manufactured consensus. (Remember Harry and Louise?)
Controlling the distorting influence of big money is an endless task for a
democracy, and requires an relentless vigilance on the part of the
electorate, as well as endless resourcefulness in our regulatory systems.
Merely a decade after our last round of campaign finance reform, a deluge
of so-called 'soft money' has swamped the levee beyond recognition.

In a campaign system where the media-buy has replaced the town meeting, the
electoral ante has risen exponentially, diverting the time and talent of
our legislators away from the public's business. The manic pursuit of
campaign funds among elected officials has been vividly and accurately
described as druglike in its obsessiveness. In such a system, the bad
drives out the good with relentless efficacy. The Huffingtons and Perots
have demonstrated how easy our system has made it for electoral races to
devolve into shopping opportunities for understimulated tycoons. Among
incumbents, the fundraising practices of Gramm, D'Amato et al have come to
define campaign momentum principally as a contest of shamelessness. In
response, too many of our most principled incumbents simply walk, and an
unknowable number of talented, well-qualified potential candidates
reasonably decline to participate in the debacle.

Is this news? Of course not. And the solutions aren't exactly rocket
science, either. Strict spending and contribution limits, the curbing of
soft money, free public service airtime to candidates: all are
long-proposed measures that would help bring the system back under control.
All of which begs some questions, the answers for which seem to be hidden
in plain sight. If the supporters of the 'Contract With America' are so
adamant about returning the process to the people, why has campaign finance
reform of any kind been so conspicuously absent from their platform? Could
it be that the well-vested interests of the status quo prefer that populist
activists focus their attention on the electoral players, rather than the
system itself? And before term-limits fans dig in for a long and fruitless
constitutional amendment campaign, let them consider. Are they going to
keep swinging at the pitch, or are they ready to step up and aim for the

Joe Vinikow, Seattle

[=] © 1995 Peter Langston []