Monday, June 05, 2006

Term Limits Revisited: They’re Good For What Ails You

The conventions, now mercifully over, will be followed by a period in which everyone will be besieged by platitudinous political ads, most of them distracting and irrelevant. One of Sen. Joe Lieberman’s recent efforts portrays his opponent, the personable Ned Lamont, as redundantly wealthy, his sights set on buying a senate seat. Well sir -- that should raise the hackles of the union leaders and other members of the proletariat who already support Lieberman, mostly for self serving reasons.

The more interesting question – Why is it so easy for those with deep pockets to buy admittance to campaigns? – probably will not be explored this election season. One guess is that the McCain/Finegold reforms were instrumental in weakening parties and strengthening the hegemony of incumbents of all stripes. The reforms restrict party building funds and divert most campaign contributions to individual politicians who are – Guess what? – incumbents.

The impregnability of incumbents and the ease with which the malefactors of great wealth are able to insert themselves into elections are unimpeachable arguments for term limits – which undoubtedly would a) spread the rampant corruption around to more politicians (Why should only incumbents have fun?), b) hopelessly confuse lobbyists who donate to incumbents without regard to party affiliation (Who is this guy? Is he ours or theirs?) and c) at long last persuade Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, wedged out of his current position by term limits, to run for governor (Honey, I lost my job).

I’ts a mystery why the Kossacks, assiduous readers of DailyKos who form much of the Frankensteinian mob now calling for Lieberman’s head, have not aligned themselves on the side of term limits. For one thing, term limits would provide more… ahem … “opportunities” for private hangings and a larger field of operations for aging anti-Vietnam war heroes who, Samson-like, want to pull down on everyone’s head the detritus of bare, ruined political parties. Secondly, term limits would move most of the Kossacks from cramped private quarters visited only by the likeminded into the public domain, where they might actually get some hands-on experience in real bare-knuckle politics.

Republicans, too, should be thumping for term limits; they haven’t held more than the governor’s office since former Senator Lowell Weicker, badly in need of someone to pay the taxes on his ill gotten gains, ran for governor on an independent ticket, won and imposed an income tax on the proletariat.

In fact, the only partisan political groups that oppose term limits are the Incumbent Party (pretty much everybody in office) and Connecticut’s only state-wide newspaper, which seems to think – when it does think – that term limits would deprive the state of necessary political experience. Actually, term limits would import experience and politicians into other positions.

Term limits, it is often forgotten, were the driving engine in Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America,” an amazingly successful campaign program that swept Republicans to victory in one of the most impressive non-Rovian political pogroms of the last century. Of course, when Republicans finally achieved control of both houses of the legislature, they quickly shelved the idea as too… ahem… cumbersome. But it was wildly popular among the populous, who began to imagine all the politicians heads mounted on one neck so that, like Nero, they could with one stroke of the sword quickly rid themselves of their tormentors.

In Connecticut, apart from Governor Jodi Rell, the most wildly popular politician among his constituents is Sam Caliguri of Waterbury. He came by these plaudits by way of self termination. After child molester Phil Giordano was hauled off to jail and Caliguri told he had succeeded to the mayoralty, the new mayor let it be known that he did not intend to run for the position again at the expiration of his term. Result: Politically defanged, everybody decided to work with Caliguri for Waterbury and the common good, and in six short months Mayor Caliguri had accomplished more for the city than his predecessor had in the previous six years.

It would be difficult to think of another bridge issue that make so many groups of people who usually spend their time screaming at each other across the political barricades lock lips together. The only people who seriously oppose term limits are incumbent politicians and their hand puppets in Big Media. After decades of pointless reform that has only served to separate political leaders from their constituents and make campaigns prohibitively expensive for anyone but incumbents and millionaires, it may be time to give term limits a try.
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