Sunday, October 24, 2010

Idea of "career politicians" democracy in action

First posted on

There have been many criticisms made this election year regarding the career choices of candidates running for office, most notably those who are incumbents. Critics have blasted those seeking re-election as “career politicians,” condemning these candidates for getting comfortable with their position of power and forgetting the people they’re meant to represent.

Two incumbents in Wisconsin are being challenged in part on the basis of choosing politics as their career. Sen. Russ Feingold is one such candidate. Having been behind in the polls for the better part of this election season, Feingold has narrowed the gap to within a statistical tie with his Republican counterpart and manufacturing millionaire Ron Johnson. Second Congressional District Rep. Tammy Baldwin is also facing a challenge from hard-right Republican candidate Chad Lee, who is a strong proponent of term limits for members of Congress (Baldwin’s chances are significantly stronger than Feingold’s at this time).

Many backers of both Johnson and Lee are supporting these two candidates because they believe that a “career politician” is a bad thing. Their views, however, contradict those of our founding fathers.

The original document that put in place the first government of the United States of America was the Articles of Confederation. Among the many difficulties that the Articles posed in the governing process, one that irked the founders a great deal was the limit on terms an officeholder could hold.

Each legislator elected to the unicameral Congress under the Articles could only serve one term of three years. After that, they had to wait until another three-year term was up before they could again run within the district they wanted to represent. It became increasingly difficult for legislators to get anything done – imagine a Congress full of only freshmen lawmakers!

One of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Rush, was himself critical of term limits, and wrote publicly about the need to dissolve the Articles and replace them with a document that would abolish the practice:

“The custom of turning men out of power or office as soon as they are qualified for it,” Rush said, “has been found to be as absurd in practices, as it is virtuous in speculation. It contradicts our habits and opinions in every other transaction in life. Do we dismiss a general – a physician – or even a domestic, as soon as they have acquired knowledge sufficient to be useful to us, for the sake of increasing the number of able generals – skillful physicians – and faithful servants? We do not. Government is a science; and can never be perfect in America, until we encourage men to devote not only three years, but their whole lives to it.”

The remaining founders debated the issue, ultimately agreeing with Rush – term limits would be removed from the Constitution, allowing officeholders to remain in power for as long as their constituents wanted them there.

Term limits would later be imposed only on the presidency, following the four-term tenure of Franklin Roosevelt. But as far as term limits for members of Congress, no serious effort has ever succeeded, nor has it ever been really attempted on a grand scale.

Looking to the modern day call for term limits a little closer, it seems that Republicans only call for them when they’re the ones out of power. In 1994, the Contract with America, proposed by Newt Gingrich and his coalition of Republicans who would soon take Congress, failed in twelve years’ time to move the idea forward. So why do we believe that the same ideological cousins of this movement – the TEA Party – would do any different?

What’s more, term limits go contrary to popular opinion. If a candidate is elected to office 20 consecutive times, we shouldn’t really care – so long as it’s the will of the people, then representative democracy is functioning properly. The people should be able to say that they want to keep their representative in power; if there is a problem with that legislator, they are free to vote him or her out.

Statutory term limits are contrary to what the founding fathers wanted. But what about the people deciding on their own, through the elections process? Even then, it might not be such a brilliant plan. A person who has been in office for longer than the constituents want is rightfully removed if that is the sole reason behind their vote – but what if the alternative to the incumbent is someone who is worse, someone whose values contradict those of the constituency’s? Indeed, we have to ask: would it be right to vote out a five-term incumbent if what we’re putting into place is someone whose values mirror those of a neo-Nazi?

Now, Ron Johnson isn’t a neo-Nazi, nor is Chad Lee. No matter how much someone might dislike either man’s politics, we needn’t compare their beliefs to those of Nazi Germany circa 1939. Still, casting a vote for Johnson on the mere basis that Feingold has been a politician for most of his adult life is a vote based on a failed meme, as is a vote for Lee against Baldwin on the same criterion.

Career politicians are, in fact, what many of our founding fathers wanted for this country. Yes, they also wanted their constituents’ wishes to be adhered to, and if a newcomer came along that had ideas that those constituents agreed to, they could very well remove a lifelong delegate in favor of a new one. But the removal of an incumbent should be due to his or her values no longer matching those of their constituents, not simply because someone thinks it’s time for a fresh face. A fresh face alone could mean disaster for the people in the long run.

Casting a vote against Feingold, Baldwin, or any other incumbent in office right now isn’t wrong. It’s something that I myself disagree strongly with – but if you have a compelling reason to vote for someone else, that’s your American right to do so. Basing that vote on the mere fact that you dislike career politicians, however, contradicts the true meaning of representative democracy: that the right person is representing the true interests of the people whom they are meant to represent.


  1. Thought I would give you a heads up...I shared this link on my blog too. Being an avid student of our founders, I find you are spot on. Thanks.!/2013/08/we-do-not-need-career-politicians.html

  2. Your thoughts of being a political worker is an awesome idea but you need to prepare excellent resume with the help of resume writer while applying for any seat in a political party. You must not try to go to top management in start as if you will start from a low level worker and gradually go up then your political career will be excellent.