Thursday, October 12, 2006

Limits are for fishermen

The Conservative Cajun, Nick Bouterie, continues to conquer the print waves with his first guest column for The Daily Advertiser. In his column, he argues for term limits, decrying the perils of "career politicians" (though he has since denied he said any such thing).

Opponents of unlimited terms tend to be conservative, anti-big-government types. They view politicians less as public servants than as public nuisances, sucking at the 36DD teat of government largesse and tripping on power as if it were high-grade LSD. To this crowd, the only difference between public service and welfare is an office and a necktie. Their motto: "Give a politician a fish, he'll eat for a day. Teach a politician to fish, and he'll retire early and go fishing for a lifetime."

For the record, I'm against term limits for the same reason I'm against the curtailing of so-called "frivolous lawsuits"; there's already a filter for that: the legal apparatus put into place by the Constitution. In the case of "frivolous lawsuits," it's the justice system, where a judge or grand jury decides whether a case is suitable for trial. Similarly, if voters don't like politicians, then they can—and must—vote them out. Why should we place any extra restrictions on those entirely reasonable checks and balances?

That said, however, politicians get away with a lot only because voters let them. But the real solution to that isn't to diminish the already-precarious value of the vote; it's to educate the citizenry and remind them whose responsibility it is to improve matters. It's ours!

"But Ian," you ask, "Don't you blame voters for the 2004 presidential election?" Well, yes and no. On one hand, voters aren't necessarily the most intellectual people, and the Electoral College seems to have been conceived with that notion in mind. On the other hand, there's little comfort in ousting Bush from the presidency, only to have another Republican clone take his place through partisan string-pulling and media manipulation. It would help if voters weren't such suckers and that politicians stopped handing them empty calories to suck on. They’re both to blame.

And as much as I totally despise the current occupant of the White House, I am against term limits for presidents. Even casual observers know that the 22nd Amendment was passed as a response to FDR's four terms, and serves more of a political purpose than anything else. Why limit a president to two terms if they are deemed by the electorate to be doing a good job? Most Americans would vote for Bill Clinton again in a heartbeat. As for the prospect of a third term for George W. Bush, I'm not worried. If he really wants one, he'll find a way to get it. But I think he's salivating over that fishing pole even as we speak.

Advocates for term limits often argue, as Nick has, that "keeping politicians from getting too comfy with all their perks and health benefits aint' [sic] such a bad idea." Can you imagine if they tried this argument with any other profession? "We must not let our teachers and factory workers get too comfy in their jobs, with all their perks and fancy-pants health benefits!"

On second thought, that's a really lousy example. Conservatives have kept workers on their toes for years by reducing their health benefits, perks and everything else that makes a job worth its toil.

No one ever talks about "career scientists," "career engineers" or "career police officers." Indeed, in fields such as those, expertise is valued. So why not with politics? Maybe it's the corruption they're worried about. Well, that can happen anywhere; I'm sure the manager at your local McDonald's doesn't always throw away the six-minute-old patties. At least with "career politicians," we know who we're dealing with, instead of trying to figure out a new scorecard every few years.

Politics is not Saturday Night Live. Well, okay, sometimes it is. But do we really need a completely new cast every couple of years? At best, that erases much of the hope for electing and keeping competent and likeable officials. At worst, it nurtures a political culture of puppetry, as older politicians continue their clout through the new generation. And it's hard enough now to keep track of our officials and who owns them.

Clearly, the debate on term limits will continue to rage for years—unless we put limits on the debate itself, which would be smart. But for the sake of public harmony, I offer a compromise: how about term limits on last names? Democrats would be happy to see the Bush dynasty gallop off into the twilight zone, while the Republicans resent the Kennedys. Bipartisan birthright control! What could be better?

I do fear, however, that such a regulation would force the GOP to mine new tasteless jokes following Ted Kennedy's departure from the Senate. All of those decades of refined and recycled jokes would just go to waste! And government waste is bad.

Bill Clinton '08!


Anonymous said...

I'm still in the undecided camp on term-limits. Better education of the public is very badly needed and would solve lots of the problems term-limits would attempt to solve. That's one of the reasons I started my blog.

Nick said...

Icon, Suspect Device was right, it's amazing how people misread an article and completely miss the point. I never said that I am for term-limits. I'm more like CT, undecided. But, we have too many career politicians running our state.

I view career politicians as those that are so arrogant that when citizens question their votes, rather than explain it and be honest, they just say we don't understand or they make up some lame excuse, ala Jay Dardenne "I was confused about the red light, green light" crap.

Are you happy with the politics of Louisiana, Icon? Are you happy that our politicians are spending millions of taxpayer dollars building lakes around the state for "economic development" and the brother-in-law of the politician who pushed this through the legislature is making 100k/lake as a "consultant?" If you like that kind of stuff, keep voting the status quo.

The whole point of my article is that Louisiana CAN recover and can prosper, but we need to change the status quo first. We need to elect legislators that aren't going to run businesses and our citizens out of the state.

Ian McGibboney said...

Nick, I don't think Greg was talking about me. He was referring to the commenter who called you a "commie." And no, I didn't get the idea that you supported term limits from the commenter you deemed ignorant. I got it from reading your own words. It's hard for to me to read your rant about "career politicians" and think anything other than that you obviously don't want politicians to stay in office for long periods. And since you're not calling for voters to wake up and take charge, that pretty much leaves term limits.

The problem with Lousiana isn't "career politicians," but the system that fosters corruption. It goes WAY beyond anyone in those seats right now, and won't change with something as piddling as term limits.

I, for one, have no problem with "career politicians" if they are doing their job. When I think they're doing badly, I vote against them. And judging that these clowns always stay in office anyway, I have to wonder just who is still voting FOR them!

Nick said...

Yeah, you're right, I didn't call for Louisiana voters to do anything:

"Now, it is up to us, the citizens, to make sure that money will be spent only in that capacity, and any politician who tries anything different needs to be fired."

"Anyone who would vote for a business tax increase needs to be sent home, and these politicians need to be able to run on their voting record, not hide from it."

"Louisiana can succeed. We need to continue this renewed fight against Washington and its politicians to help our state receive its rightful share of offshore oil and gas royalties. Louisiana needs to rebuild, both physically along the coast and within the state government in Baton Rouge, and the good people need to draw a line in the sand and take a stand - one for Louisiana's future."

If you find the purpose of my article to promote term limits, then you did miss the entire point.

Ian McGibboney said...

I never said the purpose of your article was exclusively to promote term limits. I understand that you covered a lot of ground, and I seized on one of those topics because I hadn't yet addressed it here. And you've already made it clear on three different blogs that you are on the fence about the issue.

But my interpretation was that you supported term limits, because your use of the term "career politicans" suggested that you did. In the past, I've heard that term used exclusively by those arguing for term limits. It's a loaded term, similar to "racial preference," used to ignite emotion. Maybe that's not what you meant by its use; but at least realize that that's the risk you take by using such a term.

I won't argue with you that the voters need to be responsible. The question now is, how do we get them to do it?

Nick said...

I don't know how to get Louisiana voters to be responsible. Obviously, the 20% turnout that voted in favor of every amendment told me that our voters are not informed.

One thing to do is change the legislative laws so that our state representative cannot change their votes whenever is convinient. That is one way those a-holes are able to lie to us, but it never shows up. They can vote for something dumb, and after it passes by multiple votes, change their vote with the clerk so they can say they voted against a bad bill. That is just one example of how these state politicians are able to lie to the masses and get away with it.

Kind of like the line against Kerry during the '04 campaign, "He voted for it before he voted against it." Our politicians can really do that and no one knows.

Mustang Bobby said...

I think it's interesting that one of the arguments against term limits, as Ian noted, is that it would be crazy to apply it to the real world. You wouldn't get rid of a teacher or a police officer because they've been in the job for a certain period of time and became part of the system. And as much as we knock "career politicians," that's a throwback to the populist idea that we have a part-time legislature and that the citizenry is best served when the legislature isn't in session. That may have worked 100 or even 75 years ago, but today it's ridiculous to put in amateurs in a job that requires a couple of years of on-the-job training.

And since when did public service become a dirty job? This mindset that government is somehow evil and corrupting is fine for a stump speech from someone running for office, but it's the one thing that unites this country and makes us -- for what it's worth -- the civilized society we are today. Government is one of the few institutions we have that provides us with the protection and equality we seek as both individuals and a nation.

The other thing that term limits overlooks is the value of institutional memory. Having worked in business for a while, I see what happens when someone leaves and doesn't train their successor; we end up re-inventing the wheel, or worse, losing focus on the job. Electing a brand-new batch of legislators every four years without some carry-over basically means you wipe the hard-drive and start from scratch. That sounds refreshing and reforming in the abstract, but when they spend a year trying to remember what the previous gang did means time lost, or worse, a repeat of the follies of the past.

I don't often agree with George F. Will, but in this case he's right about term limits: we already have them. They're called "elections."

Phillip said...

In our current system it seems that getting a multi-million dollar lobbyist job after your tenure of service is the biggest motivation for senators/reps to retire, ala Billy Tauzin. Their health care is for life regardless isn't it?