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2011 Fall Issue 4 (October 7, 2011)

In search of effective leadership: a plea for one-term congressmen

October 7, 2011
By Michael Goodgame

Lawmaking in this country has become a profession, and that needs to change.

Plato once wrote that the most effective leaders are not those who seek office for honor or money, but those who attain it as a duty to their society.  The best and most able citizens of the state – basically, the most educated – should be the ones making the all-important decisions about where the country is headed.  Then, they should go back to their jobs and let another fresh group of philosophers give it a shot.

This poses a problem for the United States and its Congress, where nearly every representative commits to multiple terms and many senators serve for life.

The record is held by Robert Byrd, who served for a whopping 57 years.

The matter is only made worse by the congressional pension system.  Members of Congress are vested in pension money after five years of service.  This is less than one term for senators, and it encourages members of either house to cling to their spots in Congress.

Even more painful is the retirement plan.  Retirement benefits for congressmen get better and better as their longevity of service increases, which only encourages them to stay in office indefinitely.

And who pays the extra few bucks so that our congressmen can have nice condos on the beach after they’re too old to walk the Capitol?  That’s right.  You do.

With the same faces in Congress year after year, how can we be confident that anything is getting done?  If innovation and creativity in problem solving is spurred on by new ideas and new minds, Congress fails miserably in that department.  I cannot think of an organization with more need for critical thinking and fresh ideas and more resistance to the same.  What we need are intelligent people who are committed to putting this country on the track to success, but who realize that serving is a brief responsibility and not a job.  Congress should be a meritocracy where new challengers feel moved to put their views on the table and bring fresh ideas to a system that is too often jokingly referred to as one of the slowest moving systems on planet Earth. 

Another incentive to consider for a one-term limit is the problem that everyone points to when they talk about what’s wrong with the current American system – spending.  Long-term congressmen feel the pull of their constituents and try to get reelected with pork barrel spending, which is where house or senate members make nonsense amends to bills in order to please the crowd back home.  A one term member would obviously not feel the need to get reelected and could therefore spend his time thinking of bills that might actually pull the country out of its debt instead of plunging it deeper.
Congress should not be a joke, and maybe people would take it more seriously – and maybe voter turnout would improve – if the term “lifetime politician” were made obsolete.

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