I do get a great deal of political material in my mailbox every week. Perhaps it’s because I am the perfect target. I am a registered independent. I do not fit neatly within the positions of either the Democratic or Republican Party. Nor do the terms ‘Conservative’ or ‘Liberal’ neatly capture how I think. If I try to identify myself, I would probably say I am rather conservative personally, but my beliefs towards others are fairly liberal. I want to see everyone in this country have access to a good public education, a sound healthcare system, and a safe place to raise their family. Most importantly, I believe we should strive to provide equal opportunities for everyone in our country. That is not the same as guaranteeing an equal outcome. But, everyone should get a chance to try.
I recently received a giant envelope in the mail emblazoned with the statement, National Campaign to limit terms of Congress.
I opened it to see they were proposing the 28th Amendment to our Constitution.
They proposed limiting Representatives to the House to a total of three terms and Senators to two. To my mind, that sounded reasonable enough, one term to learn your job and how to do it well, and another one or two to really put your experience to work for the people who elected you.
Inside the envelope, there was a “Citizens Petition To Congress” for me to sign and return…along with a survey and a request for a donation. The final item in the envelope was the last page of the mailer itself, which carried two headlines:
- “How many years in the House of Representatives are enough?”
- “How many years in the US Senate are enough?”
There were four photos and names under each headline. There is no need for me to identify each of these members of Congress. What is worthy of note is that among the eight of them, they had a total of 286 years in Congress! That gave an average of 35 years to each! I am not saying that is not fair. After all, we elected these people. And we elected them again, and we elected them again, and again!
This is very different from what I learned in elementary school about a country run by the people and for the people. I learned about a country where ordinary Americans took some time off from whatever it was they did for a living and went to Washington to look out for the interest of the people who had elected them. When they had completed their honorable service to the public, they would return to their community, and resume their chosen career they had before taking time off to serve in Government.
With these eight people serving an average of 35 years, this doesn’t sound like giving up a few years of your life for public service; it sounds more like becoming a life member of the Ruling Class. I thought when this country was founded, we specifically wanted to avoid Royalty and a Ruling Class. While I cannot imagine what kind of a career any of these people would resume when they eventually go home, they probably won’t have to. I would say that they will not have to worry about that because the members of Congress have seen to it that they will have a good life after their service.
- Do they have the same Social Security as you do? No.
- Do they have the same Medicare as you do? No.
They have made determinations that govern all of our lives. Yet, many of the things that they have voted on for us do not affect them. I, for one, do not think that is correct. I have made no effort to point out who these particular eight people are, nor have I identified their party affiliation or even their political leanings. That is not important. What is important is that they do not live by the same rules we do.
And, whose fault is that? Largely, it is our fault. I have to admit, I never gave the thought of running for any political office a thought! In my entire life, I never dreamed of running for Mayor of my small town, of running for a Freehold spot, or a seat on the Board of Education. I worked for a living, and I loved what I was doing. And between that and raising my family, my calendar was pretty full.
So what happened? Other people ran for those elected offices and got elected! I didn’t vote for everyone who won. But I did my best to select the best person for the job…among the people who did run. Frequently, the choices were not very satisfying. I will admit that on several occasions, I felt I was voting for the lesser of two evils. And I am sure it was my own dedication to my work and family and lack of interest in politics that lead to me feeling that way.
Putting these thoughts down on paper has actually made me think about the Government of the United States. I am very proud of our country. I have traveled around the world for more than 50 years now and told people about the fantastic opportunities I have had as an American. I love the fact that I grew up with people from all around the world of every race, color, religion, and ethnic background. Together we have all made America what it is today. And, I do love it. But, perhaps we have gotten a bit lazy with our responsibility to really participate in our government!
More of us have to consider taking time out from our careers and running for public office. And that commitment should not be to take 48 years off from our jobs while holding public office. It should be one term or two terms. We need fresh thinking. We need people running our country who know about construction, about advances in technology, about medicine, and about social issues as they happen in the real world.
Washington is our Capitol and the place where our government gets together to work. But we need our Congresspersons to understand and represent the needs of the businesses and people from their elected geography. Congress needs to be our representatives in Washington. Not Washington’s representatives in our communities. We elected them, and they work for us. They are representatives, not the ruling class. One way to ensure that Congresspersons understand that message is by setting term limits. Even if they are fantastic, their terms need to be limited. Otherwise, they become very different from you and me. That is one of the key reasons why we need term limits in Congress.
So, I am sending my signed petition back to the organization that mailed it to me. I believe in this particular cause, and I will even include my check for $10.
The other thing I am doing is writing this note to remind us of our responsibility as Americans. We are a great country. And, if we want great leaders, some of our great people will have to take time out from their daily life to run for political office.
I am forced to admit that possibility never crossed my mind as a younger man. But, perhaps as a result of this column, one of you might consider running for office. Politicians have to come from somewhere; why not throw your hat in the ring. Great people can come from virtually any background. If you are good at problem-solving and are as good at listening as you are at speaking, there may be an opportunity for you in politics -for a term or at most two.