John Laird: Confession: It's time to pull a switcheroo on term limits

By John Laird, Columbian Editorial Page Editor

Published:

 

Last Wednesday marked the 62nd anniversary of the ratification of the 22nd Amendment, which restricts the president to two terms. Nowhere else in our city, county or state government are voters forbidden to vote for an incumbent.

You can deduce from the phrasing of that second sentence how I have felt for years about term limits. Columbian archives reveal my opposition to term limits in at least three columns since 2007.

And my logic was solid. In a 2008 column I described three flaws in term limits: "We should never have good, qualified public servants forced out of government … term limits essentially transfer power to lifelong bureaucrats and career lobbyists … (and) term limits create one of the most dangerous creatures in government: the lame duck." Often I presented my case in the form of a question: I would never prohibit you from voting for an incumbent, so why can't you extend to me the same courtesy? Now, though, a confession is in order.

I was wr…

I was wro…

I was wron…

I was misquoted!

Easy, Hoss, don't blame me. Two other culprits are to blame.

First, Congress made me do it. I'm only pulling this switcheroo on term limits for Congress, not for local or state elected offices.

The last straw, for me, was when Congress turned Presidents Day into a one-week vacation last month. This recess, mind you, occurred in the closing days of sequester negotiations, and it left only four days after the recess for Congress to try to avoid automatic spending reductions.

OK, as it turned out, they knew what they were doing. No one wanted to negotiate, and there never was any chance of a compromise. But that just proves my point. Congress members had so little confidence in their ability to resolve the crisis, they just decided to skedaddle to home pastures and tranquil grazing.

(And I'm not buying the hackneyed excuse: "I've got to return home to listen to my constituents and serve their needs." How gullible do they think we are?)

McClatchy Newspapers recently reported that this 113th Congress convened on Jan. 3 but spent just 10 days in session that month. Yes, Congress has burrowed its way to new depths in what used to be called "approval" ratings, but which by now should be called the public rage-o-meter.

Second, as the consummate fair-weather fan, I feel obliged to succumb to conventional wisdom. A recent Gallup poll showed 75 percent of adult respondents supporting term limits for Congress.

I guess those folks missed my three columns opposing term limits. Their rage was bipartisan: Term limits are supported by 82 percent of Republicans, 79 percent of independents and 65 percent of Democrats. When's the last time two-thirds of both major parties agreed on anything?

Bring on some fresh faces

Therefore, I yield to the wave of public opinion. Bringing fresh faces, regularly, to Congress would benefit all of us. Releasing these politicians from the pressures of running for re-election would be good for them as well. And watching frisky Barack Obama throw his weight around has given me a new respect for lame ducks.

Unfortunately, any move toward congressional term limits must extend through, you guessed it, Congress. But that shouldn't keep the rest of us from dreaming.

The only downside in my change of heart is the likelihood that some critics will call me a liar. You know how that works. When a public figure changes his mind — based on additional, compelling evidence, and using a receptive, open mind — many critics call him a liar.

Here's the formula: If a politician changes his mind to agree with you, he's a well-informed, high-information, listener. But if he changes his mind to disagree with you, he's a liar.

So, go ahead and call me a lily-livered, flip-floppin', fence-straddlin', hornswogglin' liar … simply because I changed my mind on term limits. But I'm not the first guy to believe members of Congress have gotten too big for their britches.