So last night I posted on tumblr my concerns about term limits.
The fact that after enacting them in California and Colorado seem to have gotten worse. I admit that there are a lot of factors there and term limits may not be responsible. But my request was that, surely there had to be some study of states upon adopting term limits and what the effects were.
Did it raise or lower corruption and graft? Did it improve or worsen the fiscal situation? Was there an increase or decrease in the severity of gerrymandering? Things like this.
It doesn’t seem unreasonable to me.
All I can say is the last 24 hours have been enlightening, but in a different way.
Some idiot who claims to represent a PAC pushing for term limits started harassing me with talking points but refused to actually show any proof for why his side was something I should adopt.
His argument boiled down to a few points.
1) Term limits are popular. Great argument. Lots of things have been popular, Socrates drinking hemlock, crucifixion, Nazism, Communism, Obama, Obamacare…all popular at least at one point or another. But there’s this little point, what is popular is not always right. Granted democracy and looking to what is popular is in many cases the best of bad options (but you’ll notice that our system of government is designed to specifically ignore the tyranny of the majority).
The worst argument a supposed conservative can make is that “well 70% of the people want it.”
We’re conservatives, we’re the party of logic and reason and ethics. We supposed to know that the whims of the people are fickle and what is despised one day is popular the next, and vice versa. We’re supposed to make the argument that it will work, that evidence shows, that it’s what is right. If we can’t do that, if all we can appeal to is the whims of the hoi polloi being on your side at the moment, like liberals do, then we admit we have no proof for our argument.
2) There is no proof because looking at how it worked in states is irrelevant. This one is particularly stupid as that’s what state laws are for. One of the true virtues of federalism is that we have 50 little legislative laboratories, what works in one state is adopted by a few, what works in a few is adopted by the many, what works for the many might need to be made federal law (not always, something could work for all 50 states and still shouldn’t be a federal issue). So to just say that what happened in the states doesn’t matter, is either unspeakably naïve, or, as I worry, the evidence actually shows term limits might not be the answer.
3) Career Politicians are bad.
The argument goes that all career politicians are bad, thus we should get rid of career politicians. The argument that if something is bad, then change is good. And not wanting change is bad because it’s giving into fear, and we should be hopeful…
…and I’m sure we all know what happens when you only care about hope and change and not, you know, will it work, or asking “Yes this is bad, but is there a better way or is this just the best of bad options.”
The worst laws in history are mostly the result of people saying ‘this is bad’ and changing it for the sake of change and not stopping to think will change actually be better.
Here is my problem. Let’s say you have 100 politicians.
Now you are left with only two logical positions. Either they’re all bad, or you have a mix of mostly bad and a few good ones (I’m not stupid enough to consider the possibility that they’re all good)*. Now if they’re all bad then this is just a pointless argument, because then there is no point in caring about how you select them. Let’s for the sake of argument be very hopeful (and because I like round numbers) and say that in our group of 100 politicians, 90 are bad and 10 are good.
Now we have to look if politicians get worse as they stay in office longer. And when you think about it, it’s hard to find anexample of a great politician who became worse with time. Think about it, John McCain is a worthless piece of offal, but not because he’s spent his life in politics (I think everyone forgets he got caught taking bribes in his first term as Senator). He’s always been a corrupt politician. It just seems that politicians are more corrupt for two reasons (1) because the longer they’re there, the more chances we have to catch them at the corruption that started on day one and (2) the longer they are there the more they learn to work the system and with that comes making deals to get something in return. Now some politicians make deals to enrich themselves (more than I can name, these are usually the one who were corrupt from day one) or they are making deals to get something they do actually believe is good for the nation but ideologues only look at the compromise and not what they got which makes even the honest attempting to do good seem bad in the eyes of the most knee jerk commentators. So when you think about it very few politicians become bad the longer they’re there. It’s not that power corrupts, it’s that power attracts the corruptible. So a good politician, a Romney, a Goldwater is not necessarily ruined by their time in the seat. And even some of the questionable ones are still to the benefit of the public because of what they have learned over time…I may have issues with Newt Gingrich on a lot of points, but you can’t deny he was an effective Speaker who relentlessly pushed for conservative policies and got us a lot of what he promised…and he could do this because of his experience.
So the amount of good turning to bad probably isn’t as high as we think. Let’s say that over time 2 of the 10 good ones go bad…because politicians are apparently like milk left out overnight (at least in the mind of people pushing for term limits).
But let’s put term limits in.
Now of the 90 bad ones…since their constituents already elected a terrible politician we are almost guaranteed that they’ll be putting another idiot in. If we’re very lucky we’ll get one good one. So we have 89-1.
But let’s look at the 10 good ones. You term limited out the 10 good ones and now it’s a crap shoot again if you can even get a good candidate. In all likelihood your 10 good ones are replaced by the law of averages with 9 bad and one good politician (as I feel the 10 good ones will, by simply statistics have candidates with the 9-1 split running, so I just feel it’s statistically unlikely that they all be replaced by good ones). So now instead of 10 good politicians to the 100, you have 2.
And you see this in California, which went from occasionally having Republican control of the house in the legislature to never having control since 1997(term limits passed in 1990). Granted demographic shifts could be responsible, so I’m in need of studies to show what actually happens for states I’m not as familiar with when term limits are passed.
Now maybe I’m wrong and the statistics hold across the board and we still wind up with a 90-10 split. Which would mean that we’ve wasted time and money on term limits to have zero effect. Money and time to get a Constitutional law passed which changes nothing. Not seeing the upside here.
And I just can’t see a logical situation which makes it more likely that bad politicians will be replaced with good ones. I see term limits replacing bad with bad and good with bad.
So just because its career politicians are bad, doesn’t mean that getting rid of them is good.
Now I could be wrong. Term limits could lead to better government. Hence my call for evidence on what happens. I did a quick search and couldn’t find any. And the fact is that the person who was pushing term limits so hard had nothing but these three bad arguments.
Now, it may simply be that this idiot was not well informed and there is evidence to the contrary, but show it to me. Otherwise I see actually limiting the power of government (so that whoever is in will have less ability to ruin our lives), and Voter ID and raising the voting age (because it matters more who is electing the politicians than the politicians) as being a more effective avenue to put our time and effort into as any of these would require nothing less than a Constitutional Amendment…and if we’re going to exert that kind of effort it better be for something that will actually work.
But again if you have any study or evidence that term limits actually do lead to better government, less corruption, and more fiscally responsible legislatures (or any improvement other than new names) please share it with me and I will trumpet it over every social media avenue I have.
*This should really be on a sliding scale of good, okay, eh, bad, horrible, Obama. But that would get too complicated to calculate, the general rule still holds.