Politicians should be restricted to term limits, preventing them from becoming out of touch with the interests of civilians.
By Katelyn McCarthy
After the defeat of the British in the Revolutionary War, King George III was told that George Washington was planning on resigning as commander-in-chief of the American forces instead of becoming the king of the fledgling nation. In response he stated, “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.”
Washington did do just that, though he would be called upon by his countrymen six years later to become their first president. After two terms, he declined to run for a third. Only three men ever ran for a third term: Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin D. Roosevelt, with FDR the sole among them to win. 6 years after his death during his fourth term, Congress passed the 22nd Amendment, which barred presidents from seeking any more than two terms in office.
No such term limits exist regarding congressmen. Many of our currently serving congressmen have treaded the sacred halls of the Capitol for twice the age of the average college student.
About 40% of the current House of Representatives has spent longer than the equivalent of two presidential terms in office. 48—that’s almost half—of our current senators were formerly governors or members of the House of Representatives. 51—that is over half—have spent more than 8 years in the Senate, not including time spent in other branches of government.
We have created a cult of the politician, inducting them into halls not of service but of celebrity. We have allowed and, by our votes, enabled the development of an American aristocracy which we call “democracy.” While it is true that our elected officials are elected, the fact that we speak of “political families”or blindly accept that the person who has headed our district for twenty years can and should continue to do so for another twenty betrays the idea that the politician exists in a class all of his own. This divides the citizen, who possesses complete and unsurpassable worth, from the politician, placing the latter above the former and divorcing government from the people. Government, so conceived, becomes “Of the politician, by the politician, and for the politician.”
Washington understood that the politician exists to serve the citizen. If one enters the political life, it ought to be with the intention of someday exiting that role. A state that exists to serve its own ends and not the ends of the entire unit is not a benevolent force but a totalitarian regime, or at least a regime with totalitarian tendencies. It is Mount Vernon, not the Capitol, that ought to be the politician’s anchor. This is the surest protector against tyranny, corruption, and a self-serving political “class.”
However, with such a high percentage of our politicians seemingly making the Capitol their Mount Vernon, term limits ought to be placed upon each house of Congress. Doing so would help clear our political waters muddied by corruption, reintroduce the politician into civilian life, and promote the election of representatives who remember what it is like to lack political clout.
If King George III were here today, sitting on his throne and stroking his chin as he gazed across the sea at our American continent, how many of our congressmen would he, according to his standard, rank among “the greatest men in the world?” Where is Washington among them?
Term limits would likely bring him back. I think the king would be pleased.
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Ryan Ford '23,