"... The two parties should be almost identical, so that the American people can throw the rascals out at any election without leading to any profound or extensive shifts in policy." -- Prof. Carroll Quigley
Professor Quigley was probably wrong about not needing opposing opinions. It does seem an adversary system has served us well, and no better system has been found in 6,000 years of human history. However, holding any one office for only two terms hasn't proven a bad idea.
Following the death of four-term President Roosevelt in 1945, the Constitution was amended to limit Presidents to two terms. This has worked out reasonably well (certainly better than the 18th Amendment did). Presidents Carter and Clinton, to name two, have contributed meaningfully to their worlds since leaving office. I pray the same can one day be said of Evan Bayh.
Senator Bayh recently announced he would not be seeking a third term as United States Senator from Indiana. I did not vote for the Senator, but my overall impression has been positive. To my knowledge he leaves public office with his reputation unscathed, unlabeled as one of the "rascals." This makes him at least noteworthy, even if not unique. His reported reason for this decision is that he found after 12 years that politics as practiced in the American system is dysfunctional. This I could have told him 12 years ago.
After two terms, Congressman Brad Ellsworth, who represents the District in which I live, has announced his intent to seek the Senate seat vacated by Sen. Bayh. In the interest of full disclosure, the Congressman is the first of only two Democratic Party candidates for whom I have voted in the past some 45 years. One of the reasons I voted for him was my feeling that he had not yet been around long enough to turn into a politician, a "rascal" if you will. We will see.
It seems likely the writers of our Constitution may have had in mind men who would serve as representative for a term or two and then go back home. It is not at all clear the founding fathers had in mind a life of being a Congressman or Senator. In this mold was Republican Congressman Ed Pease, who served our District honorably from 1997 to 2001. Having served God and country for two terms he left Congress to pursue real life. For the record also, I voted twice for Ed.
It is highly unlikely we will see Congressional term limits in the foreseeable future; too many who would have to make such a decision have a life-long vested interest in remaining dysfunctional. This is unfortunate, among others things this means Congress will continue to be dysfunctional. It might be interesting as a nation to find out what meaningful contributions could be made by those who, having served God and country for a term or two, came home to pursue real life.
In the meantime maybe we should just throw the rascals out after all? Maybe changing of the guard just because they'd been there long enough is as good a place as any to start?
David L. Lewis is an observer of and sometimes commentator on life who may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.