Monday, November 2, 2009

Term Limits, Please

I do not often like to write or discuss politics in this country. Although I am usually willing to discuss an issue that is affected by the political environment, I avoid talking about candidates or party ideals. On average, my opinion does not fit with the people I talk to. Conservatives are too conservative and liberals are too liberal (I consider myself to be quite moderate). That being said, I decided to write about the political system in the United States this week, not in honor of Election Day, but because elections are dominating the news sites.

The United States is often criticized, mostly by the inhabitants of this country, for its political system. I have heard complaints about everything from how slow the legislative process is to how the politicians diverge from their parties’ values too often, among others. The complaints are far too numerous to list here, and while I understand some of them, others seem to miss the upside of certain traditions or policies.

People complain that our legislative system is too slow, but a slow system is far more preferable than one that allows change to be enacted easily and quickly. The slow process is meant to prevent rash action, and retroactively became a way to lessen the effects of political swings between the two dominant parties in this country. Without our arduous legislative process, the majority in the Senate would have an incredible amount of power: a majority party could pass laws quickly while the minority would have little influence. We would get whiplash from the changes in the laws each time the power passed between parties. The slow process allows for refinement of the legislation and greater consideration of consequences; it protects minorities by preventing any one group from having too much power.

Politicians do tend to diverge from their parties’ political values, but how much of a problem is this? Should politicians be automatons of their respective parties? It was once considered a virtue to be an individual in this country; I guess I must have missed the memo that changed that. I realize that a politician should practice what they preach, so to speak, but that does not necessitate that they have the exact same stances that their party advocates.

When I look at our political system, the biggest problem I see is the motives of the politicians. At the root of that problem is the lack of term limits on senators and representatives. After being elected the first time, the motives of senators change from representing their constituencies to trying not to aggravate too many voters, especially right before they’re up for reelection. The main goal of incumbents becomes to remain in power. They stop taking strong stances and they increase the amount of pork they add to bills. The ideas are not to offend anyone that may be voting for them and to spend tax dollars on things that appease their constituencies, whether or not the benefits are worth the money.

With term limits, members of Congress would worry less about keeping their cushy jobs as the leaders of our country. Rather, they would be concerned with running the country in a way that looks toward the long term. Instead of appeasing current voters by spending unnecessary amounts of money on projects that are hardly beneficial, politicians would work to be more fiscally responsible. Politicians would take stronger stances on things they claim to believe in. Elections would be more democratic on average because the incumbent advantage would be shorter lived, and, quite possibly, diminished in influence.

People in this country should stop complaining about the individuality of politicians and about the speed of our system. It is ridiculous to desire politicians to be automatons of their parties; without individualism our country would not exist. As for any complaint about the lack of speed in the legislative process, a review of the lessons we are taught in classes like U.S. Government and Civics in middle and high school is in order. Checks and balances are a good thing, and our system would likely benefit from a further check on the power of Congresspeople in the form of term limits.

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