Sometimes people say that term limits are irrelevant. It’s not that they oppose term limits. It’s just that they think political process as such doesn’t matter at all. As one skeptic puts it, “the central problem is American culture, not legislative culture. The country wants to spend without paying, and will find ways to do that. Term-limits advocacy is a way to avoid tackling the larger problem.”
False alternative, folks. I agree: ideas and culture matter most. But this does not mean that institutions and process matter not at all. Ninety percent of the porkbarrel projects that get passed without public debate would go down in flaming defeat if voters could decide each one up or down. If process were irrelevant, all the same things would happen anyway.
So if the new governor of California repeals a recently tripled car tax, that was going to happen anyway. And doesn’t matter whether the previous governor had served one term plus one year, two terms, or 10 terms. But process does matter. If a corrupt politician is termed out of office, giving a chance for someone with better ideas and better character that matters.
There is no unitary, blob-like public opinion that gets automatically translated into unitary, blob-like policy. That’s a collectivist view of the world, not the individualist view such skeptics of term limits claim to have. For my part, I’d rather not turn over permanent power to the guys in office at this moment. I’d rather have term limits and have hope.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.