Among the general populace and within individual communities, the debate regarding term limits seems to be relative even. Some conservatives support the idea, and others don’t. Progressives and libertarians also seem split on the issue. Among my own pro liberty peers, there seems to be an even split on the issue, as well.
A few years ago, I generally opposed term limits for two reasons: I believed that they’d do little to combat tyranny, and I thought that voters should have a choice to elect whomever they desire to elect.
Why have I changed my mind?
Already being the elected official grants politicians tremendous benefits when the next election arrives. In the US House of Representatives, around 96% of incumbent Congressmen successfully win reelection. This is despite nearly every individual in the US hating their Congressmen. For example, in 2004, 25 of the 26 incumbents running in the United States Senate election and 396 of the 401 incumbents running in the U.S. House of Representatives won their elections.
Additionally, incumbents enjoy a psychological advantage. Voters already see the elected official as proven winners and leaders. This is a very powerful benefit, which translates into more votes. Being a proven winner also makes fundraising much easier. Donors are much more likely to give money to people they believe will successfully win the election, because their primary intention is often to have a friend in office.
Incumbent politicians also enjoy a humongous name-recognition advantage. Already having run an entire campaign at least once before and being the officeholder for at least one term means that many voters already know the politician’s name.
Speaking of money, sitting Congressmen are legally allowed to use taxpayer dollars to mail voters in their district. This gives them another financial advantage over their challengers.
Hubris and tyranny
Is it inherently important to remove incumbents from office? Yes. In my experience, even the most principled, pro-liberty, honest, decent people cannot maintain their morals forever when they gain power. Those who understand politics or psychology know how intoxicating power can be, and how powerfully it corrupts individuals. Other than Ron Paul, who seemed to maintain his pro-liberty ideology throughout his 22 years in the US House, I cannot think of any individual who ever held political office for more than 6 years who did not lose their morals. From Marco Rubio to Chris Christie, to Pence, Hatch, Cornyn, and so many others, it seems to only be a matter of time before power corrupts these once-great people. So, it becomes increasingly important to remove incumbents from office every few years to teach them – and future politicians who take their place – a lesson in humility.
Many intelligent political analysts and entire political parties believe that term limits are one of the most important issues in US politics.
The voters’ choice
Some people argue that term limits are not necessary because voters could technically remove any bad politician from office at every election. This oversimplified statement misses a few big issues: As Bryan Caplan (an esteemed political science researcher and professor of economics at George Mason University) explains in his book, voters are extremely irrational and unintelligent. He proves his case using vast amounts of data. Secondly, less than half of eligible voters vote in state elections, and town elections generally receive around 10% voter participation, in my experience. So, even if an incumbent wins reelection with 60% of the vote – a massive victory in political terms – they still might be hated by around 95% of the people in their district.
Without getting too deep into the political science, US elections are organized rather poorly in terms of fairness. Plurality winner elections and the two-party system disenfranchised massive amounts of voters in various ways. This video explains the concept quite well. Suffice it to say that when only 3% of the people show up to vote for you in the primary – one in which you only have one opponent – and you then win the governorship, there is a major issue in the system.
The real solution
Of course, term limits would only provide for a small benefit to true freedom in the grand scheme. In my opinion, the true solution would be to take back power from/abolish government agencies and offices progressively until we the people (individuals) possess all of the power, and the arrogant tyrants in fancy suits in DC have no power over us.