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Duncan Quirk

Duncan Quirk

Posted January 21, 2009 | 09:31 AM (EST)

Legislative Term Limits


As the world ushered in the age of the Obama Administration, the two longest serving Senators, Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd, were taken away from the Inaugural Luncheon for medical reasons. Byrd was taken away in a wheelchair after having trouble eating shortly before Kennedy collapsed in an apparent seizure and was brought to the hospital. Both Senators are reportedly doing fine; however these events raise a serious concern on the state of our government and our aging leaders.

Many have suggested that a key to Obama's victory, particularly among the youth vote, has been his vitality, health, and relative youth, this is starkly contrasted by the age and health concerns of more veteran office holders such as Kennedy, Byrd, and former Vice President Dick Cheney. Despite all of their contributions to this country and their experience in running it, their age and health should be a sign for more of our Senators and Representatives to step down. Kennedy suffered two seizures after an apparent stroke in May of 2008, ultimately resulting in a diagnosis of a malignant brain tumor. Byrd, 91, was in and out of Walter Reed Army Medical Center last year after a fall at his home in February. In December of 2006, Senator Tim Johnson suffered a stroke: it would be months before he could focus on his job in the Senate and he would not return to the Senate floor until September of 2007. During their various treatments, past and present, it would be nearly impossible to suggest that they should be carrying on their full duties within the Senate. Since none of the Senators could fully participate in their duties during these times the people who they represented were lacking full representation. Regardless of their motives for not stepping down, the fact remains that their constituents were underrepresented. The same can be said when Senators skip votes in order to campaign for either re-election or the Presidency. Elementary school's across America have student governments and classroom representation and the majority of these schools have both representatives and alternates so that in the event that a representative is temporarily unable to fulfill his or her duties, the alternate can: theoretically ensuring complete representation.

While the use of alternates, possibly selected from the elected official's staff, would prevent temporary lapses in representation due to health and age the ultimate goal and solution should be the setting of term limits upon all manners of public office. In 1951, the 22nd Amendment was ratified setting a Presidential Term Limit of two terms. Many Americans shiver in disgust at Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's attempts to amend his country's constitution in order to extend his reign, and even more lash out at the powers of Putin within Medvedev's Russia, and yet there are Senators and Congressman who have served over forty years within the American Legislature, a branch of equal power to the Executive. Often, these senior members head the most important committees and wield the greatest amount of power. It can be argued that experience amongst the Legislature is necessary in order to maintain a functioning government and to make the wisest decisions, but experience is more than simply the length of time served. The creation of Legislative Term Limits would not hinder the ability for experienced officials to continue to serve their country, as those who reach the Term Limit could still participate at other levels of government and through charities. Legislative Term Limits would prevent ineffectual officials from maintaining their positions and encourage others to act with more haste regarding their campaign promises. Term Limits would also hinder corruption and the effects that lobbyists have upon the government by breaking the established connections between lobbyists and the legislators in power, and by reducing the sway future campaign donations have. Establishing Term Limits would also promote a meritocracy by reducing the number of career politicians and the influence of political families, consequently curbing nepotism and the grooming of future politicians for office.

"A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right," (Thomas Paine, Common Sense) and consequently we have overlooked the merits of placing Term Limits on the Legislature. And so, as we enter into the Obama Administration and the tides of change continue to flow, the younger generations must heed President Obama's call and take responsibility for ourselves and this country. We must all take a greater stake in the operation of our government and take action to ensure that it is working to the best of its ability: in doing so we must enact Legislative Term Limits.