Tuesday, February 21, 2006

It's the Term Limits, Stupid: Part I

The 22nd Amendment

Section 1. No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once. But this Article shall not apply to any person holding the office of President when this Article was proposed by the Congress, and shall not prevent any person who may be holding the office of President, or acting as President, during the term within which this Article becomes operative from holding the office of President or acting as President during the remainder of such term.

Section. 2. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States within seven years from the date of its submission to the States by the Congress.

Ratification was completed on February 27, 1951.

Imagine, if you will, the following scenario:

In the year 2000, Governor George W. Bush of Texas manages to gain the office of President of the United States by an extremely slim margin in the state of Florida due to a concerted Republican effort to suppress the voting rights of black Floridians and halt the unfinished vote recount in 4 Florida counties. Once in office, he breaks the law, lies to the American people and the world (with the help of other members of his administration), allows the largest terrorist attack in US history to take place despite the warning of the outgoing Clinton administration and his own intelligence community, and clears some brush.

In 2004, he is re-elected to the office by supporting fabricated attacks on his opponent's military record, opportunistically using the pubic's memories of the very terrorist attack he allowed to happen in order to instill the image of himself as a hero and champion of freedom, and being friends with the right people (i.e., the ones who own of have owned voting machine companies). Thus far in his presidency, he has led the nation into an illegal war in which thousands of our sons and daughters and countless Iraqis have lost their lives, illegally wiretapped its citizens, racked up an astronomical deficit, and supported the torture of "detainees" at US controlled foreign prisons.

In 2008, after thousands of additional lives have been lost, the deficit has reached a number no average American citizen can imagine, the world has lost any remaining shred of respect they once had for the US, the United States has illegally invaded yet another country (coughcoughIrancoughcough), and our civil liberties have shriveled to the point of nonexistance, good 'ole George runs again.

Backed by the right-wing media machine, evangelical Christian leaders who preach politics from the pulpit while managing to avoid paying taxes, and indirect control over private electronic voting machine companies, he is handed the office of "leader of the free world" once again.

By 2010, we are at war with the Middle East at large (with the important exception of Saudi Arabia, where 15 of those terrorist hijackers came from, which is of no consequence whatsoever), we have nuclear warheads pointed at Iran, North Korea, Syria, and just for fun, France (those wimps--who likes them anyway?). Our entire country has been mortgaged off to China to keep our wars financed. Our press is given statements each day directly from the White House Press Secretary, and the information herein is the only information they are allowed to pass on to the public. The White House press office is officially renamed Ministry of Information.

The American public is now enormously supportive of the President, because he controls their access to news with an iron grip. The remaining dissidents (many have been arrested at this point as "enemy combatants" of the United States and either disposed of quietly or interned in camps built by Halliburton subsidiaries) are no longer able to communicate electronically due to the privatization of the Internet and univeral telephone surveillance and only survive by joining together and living in underground bunkers.

In the year 2011, the United States, at the direction of its president, launches nuclear weapons at "key military targets" in the Middle East and succeeds in killing millions of innocent people and, due to ineffective long-term planning, the radiation from these bombings slowly creeps across the entire surface of the planet until the entire world population succumbs to violent radiation poisoning resulting in the complete extermination of the human race.

[end scenario]

Now, I realize that this little fairy tale is extreme (and please note that the current proposal to repeal the 22nd Amendment is not intended to apply to Bush and it is also sponsored by a Democrat), but it serves my purpose. The 22nd Amendment to the United States Constitution was created and ratified to control the power of the executive. There is currently a bipartisan proposal arguing for a repeal of the amendment. There are arguments made both for and against repealing this amendment, and there is certainly merit to each side, but I want to suggest a third alternative.

One side of the 22nd Amendment argument is that the amendment itself is undemocratic, as it takes control away from the voters by removing their ability to continue voting for a leader whom they support. There is logic to this. Voters are able to re-elect their Congressional representatives as many times as they choose, without limit. The only way in which Congressional offices are controlled is by the election process--every two or six years, the voters have the opportunity to choose a different representative or senator, and representatives and senators can be re-elected indefinitely. Presidents, on the other hand, have only two chances to serve in the office and are then ineligible for re-election. In this argument, it is assumed that the Legislative and Judicial branches have sufficient oversight power to control the Executive and keep the holder of that office from overreaching. This is the rationale currently being used to argue for a repeal.

The other side argues that presidential term limits are an absolute necessity in order to control the power of the executive and keep it from expanding unreasonably. This argument takes into account the necessity of limiting executive power and understands that the legislature and judicial systems are not always able to counter that power due to their connections to the executive himself (i.e., a Supreme Court nominee of a sitting president is likely to side with that president on many issues and a member of Congress who comes from the same party as the executive may feel the same or may be under pressure to submit to the party's opinions on the issues).

Both of these arguments are valid, but there is a third suggestion that is not often mentioned. I believe that presidential term limits are an absolute necessity, that it is vital to control the power of the executive in order to sustain a democratic state. However, so long as Congressional representatives are able to hold office indefinitely and judicial appointees are put on the bench for life, it is patently undemocratic to lock presidents out of office after only two terms. So, I have an alternative proposition to repealing the 22nd Amendment: We need to expand the provisions of the amendment to include members of Congress. We also need to impose term limits on members of the federal judiciary.

We have fallen into a trap which I do not believe our nations' founders anticipated--a trap in which a whole new occupation has been birthed--the career of the politician. Instead of our country being led by honorable statesmen, it is led by career politicians who represent interest groups and business communities rather than the mass of the people. Many of these are first elected early in middle age and sit in the hall of our legislature until they are no longer physically or mentally capable of performing their duties. Our democracy would benefit twice over if this were no longer the case.

Imposing the two term limit on United States senators would protect our democracy by allowing more Americans to take part in our government. As the system currently stands, it is very difficult to defeat an incumbent senator. If, every four or twelve years, it were mandatory for the senator or representative to be replaced, another United States citizen with the desire to work in public service would be granted that opportunity where he or she might not have if they were forced to face an incumbent. Also, if these members of Congress were not eligible to simply continue on in their posts, the American public would be much more likely to vote in midterm elections. Many Americans tend to vote only in presidential elections, because these are the most visible. Elections for the Senate and House often fly under the radar for voters because they do not receive as much publicity as presidential elections. I believe that imposing term limits on Congressional representatives would revatilize a tired electorate.

In order to realize the true ideal of our democratic state, we must go one step further and impose term limits on the judiciary. Federal judges are appointed to the bench for life. They can only be removed from this office by force of law, retirement, or death. This is an extremely antiquated tradition, and it is vital to our continuing democratic success to eliminate it. Because federal judges are appointed by the executive, they are undeniably tied to the beliefs of the president who appoints them. Although these judges are intended to be impartial guardians of the rule of law, their position is, by its very nature, political and must be treated as such.

I propose that a definitive term be set for members of the federal judiciary. Although they are not elected officials, they are placed in their posts by elected officials. A term of ten consecutive years seems like a reasonable limit to me. The term would begin on the day the appointee is confirmed by the Senate, and end ten years to that day. Some would argue that a term limit for a judge will politicize the judiciary, but I believe that since the judiciary would continue to operate outside of the electoral process, this would not be a problem. I propose that it would, in fact, moderate the courts by continually revolving the actual persons serving. The purpose of a democratic system of government is to safeguard the guarantee that government is carrying out the wishes of the majority of the public. Lifelong appointments are not conducive to this ideal.

We have been searching desperately for new ways to revive the American electorate. Voters are often apathetic to the political process and feel that it is unrealistic to take part because it is so far removed from them personally. By allowing them to change the makeup of Congress more often, we give the power back to the people, where it belongs. By ensuring that judges will change regularly, we give them hope that our legal code will not grow stale, but will continue to grow as our perceptions of the world and our place in it evolve.

By imposing mandatory term limits on all branches of our democratic government, we can finally fully realize the dream of our nation's founders--a government that is truly of, by, and for the people, with laws created by the consent of the governed.