Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Term Limits for Congress: The Citizen Legislature

I listened to the podcast of ABC News' This Week with George Stephanopoulos. He interviewed Senator Chuck Hagel who will be leaving the Senate this year and does not plan to run for reelection. When asked what he planned on doing the next year he half-joked (and I'm paraphrasing), "its a well known fact that senators have no real skill sets."

That half truth strikes at the heart of one of our biggest problems in congress today. The people of the United States Congress are by and large, career politicans. They rose through the ranks of the political system and emerged to fill their slot in a congressional district or as a senator. Once they find that place, it becomes remarkably easy to hold that position, because in general while the country thinks that congress overall stinks, it always seems their guy is OK.

And so what you get is not a congress made of of citizens who have been dealing with the problems of industry, the economy, our defense, or any of the other issues of the day. You get a congress made up of those who wanted to be little more than members of congress.

Consider for a moment the men that made up the constitutional convention. Most of them were not career politicians. They were instead farmers, traders, land owners, lawyers and doctors, they were the technocrats of their day. They brought together their searing intellects and varied philosophies to form the basis of our government. After serving their time, they went back to their professional lives, having fought for their intellectual passions.

Imagine today, if you will, that Steve Jobs took 8 years away from running Apple to be a Senator from California, or that Warren Buffet wielded his intellect around the halls of Congress for a term or two. What about Paul Allen or Michael Dell? Take a look at the Forbes top 400 and you'll find 20 names you'd like to see walking the halls of congress guiding our policy decisions. Then there is other side, what about the main street business owner, the guy that owns a Starbucks in Boston, or the woman who started her own company in Iowa. What about the farmer in Kansas. Knowing in advance that serving in the congress would be temporary would give someone with a real life access to the system. But instead Congress is filled with people that will stay for decades, stale on ideas and out of touch with the citizenry they are meant to represent. Congress was meant to be made up of members that reflected their citizens, not be a class unto themselves.

Term limits will infuse the system with a balance and flow it has lacked for a century.

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