I would never suggest a limit on the tenure of newspaper editors, but the cause of the moment seems to require imposing a limit on the terms a representative or senator can serve - regularly sweeping clean the corridors of power in Washington.
People who advocate this proposal accept the logical fallacy that "new is better" and must believe that elective office is the one vocation where experience is an obstacle to good performance.In our nation's earliest years, the citizen-legislator was a useful idea. Leaving the plow and riding horseback to New York, Philadelphia or later to Washington was a workable arrangement in a largely agricultural country whose total population in 1790 was about 3.6 million.
Today's America is vastly more populous, enormously more complicated and requires the full-time attention of someone. Should that someone be the permanent bureaucracy?
Unelected, unresponsive and unaccountable, the power of bureaucrats in the day-to-day operations of government far exceeds that of elected and politically appointed officials whose tenure is inherently transitive. If that tenure is limited, government will be the loser.
This raises the fundamental weakness in the argument for limiting terms - a distrust of the people who, every two years for the House of Representatives, must renew or cancel a member of Congress' lease on office. No one maintains democracy always produces the best or most noble result, but as Churchill reminded us, it's better than any other system.
Limiting the people's options by requiring a turnover every few years would effectively deprive our country of the services of many outstanding public servants whose experience and wisdom have accumulated over long years of sensitive and sensible service.
To believe, as some do, that America is governed by a permanent Congress is a great leap not supported by fact. Only 19 percent of current House members elected before 1974 are still serving. During the eight years of the Reagan presidency, there was a 55 percent turnover in the House membership.
To assume a member of Congress can learn all about government in a few years is simplistic nonsense. If a district or a state is ill-served by a second-rate representative, the remedy is available - the democratic process every election. That the turnover isn't greater hardly vitiates the system.
Incumbents can be defeated. Run better candidates and better campaigns and turn the electorate out to vote. A light turnout on election day reflects the failure of the opposition to ignite the voters.
Often people vote against candidates or for issues, but when they're satisfied, too many don't bother to vote at all. That's human nature, not democracy's fault.
For Congress to reflect truly the diversity of America, its members should be drawn from the widest range of citizens possible. Among these, people in midlife should be welcome to join the young and the old in public service, because every age group brings a unique perspective to its important job.
If there are artificial limits on the years of service, then the young will begin their careers in Congress and bring the active and creative years to a vocation with no tenure and whose only prospect is forced retirement.
No, have faith in democracy, let the people choose and don't disqualify those who can bring sound judgment borne of years of experience to the increasingly demanding tasks of elected office.
If a 12-year limitation on congressional service had been law, the long and distinguished careers of John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, Everett M. Dirkson, Henry Jackson, Barry Goldwater, Claude Pepper, Morris Udall and so many more would have been denied us.