Something for Doug: Abramoff backs term limits

Doug should enjoy this.

It came along with the following release from U.S. Term Limits:

Jack Abramoff Backs Term Limits in New Video

The man once known as “America’s most notorious lobbyist” is speaking out in a new video for congressional term limits. Jack Abramoff now says “Congress will never be fixed without term limits” in a video produced for U.S. Term Limits’ “Term Limits Convention” campaign.

According to Abramoff, term limits would reduce special interests’ influence in Washington by disrupting their relationships with long-serving incumbents.

“When I was a lobbyist, I hated the idea that a congressman who I had bought with years of contributions would decide to retire,” Abramoff says. “That meant I had to start all over again with a new member, losing all the control I had bought with years of checks.”

Abramoff’s comments debunk the arguments made by anti-term limits politicians, who’ve long claimed that lobbyists like term limits.

“Career politicians often smear term limits by claiming lobbyists are for it,” said U.S. Term Limits President Philip Blumel. “But the opposite is true. Whenever lobbyists get involved in a term limits campaign, all of their money goes to the side trying to prevent, weaken or abolish term limits. That’s why we’re glad Jack Abramoff is speaking out.”

Abramoff’s video closes on this note, as he warns “if you want to see pigs screeching at the trough, tell them they can’t stay there forever. There’s no trough as dangerous as the one in Washington.”

The ex-lobbyist volunteered his opinions and was not compensated by U.S. Term Limits. His remarks will be used to raise awareness for the Term Limits Convention, a new campaign to term limit Congress using an Article V amendment convention.

The campaign, launched in January, requires 34 state legislatures to pass bills calling for term limits on Congress, before a convention can be called to propose a congressional term limits amendment. Florida was the first state to pass the resolution but several others are considering it now.

Watch the Abramoff Video here.

Of course, it doesn’t change my mind. I still have problems with telling the voters who they can and can’t re-elect if they so choose.

There are good arguments in favor of term limits — ones that I find more persuasive than Abramoff’s “everybody’s a crook like me” thesis. For instance, it might increase political courage — representatives daring to do the right thing, rather than the popular thing so they can get re-elected.

Most people who favor term limits think it would be a way to bind elected officials more to the popular will. They have it backwards. It could free them from slavish adherence to the popular idea of the moment. And that could be a could thing. It could also be a bad thing, if it freed pols to do something unpopular that was also a terrible idea.

But in any case, I remain unconvinced, and mostly for the reason that drives Doug the craziest: I believe that experience is valuable in public service, just as it is in every other field of human endeavor. And a mindless mechanism that would throw out the very best representatives along with the very worst is not a good idea.

8 thoughts on “Something for Doug: Abramoff backs term limits

  1. Doug Ross

    I don’t discount experience. I just believe that it doesn’t take more than a year or two to gain the experience necessary to perform the job. It’s not like medical school.

    The problem with experience is when a person gets to one or both of the following points:

    1) I’ve been here a long time and I know everything so I don’t need to learn anything new or change my thinking
    2) I’ve been here a long time and have built up a good old boy network with fellow long term congressmen so that we don’t have to do the right thing any more, we just make deals to keep ourselves in office.

    Incumbents have too much power when it comes to re-election. Abrahamoff has been inside the game long enough that I believe him when he says lobbyists buy politicians over the long term.

    12 years for a Congressman is plenty enough time to get experience. Then all they have to do is take one term off or move up from Congressman to Senator (the cream rises to the top, right?) Whatever problems exist in our government are a result of the long tenured “experienced” politicians who make the deals.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I agree that “Incumbents have too much power when it comes to re-election.” And the cure for that is to reform reapportionment.

      Doing away with gerrymandering is the silver bullet that people think term limits would be. The way we draw district lines now is destroying the country.

      Since practically every district has been drawn to guarantee that a certain party has a lock on it, general elections for district seats have become irrelevant. Now, the only political competition is in the primaries, which means that the incumbents live in terror of someone more extreme than they are voting against them. So they obstruct, demonize the opposite party, and NEVER take the risk of working across party lines to enact sensible, pragmatic policies.

      Multi-term pols are not the problem. Reapportionment for absolute party control is.

      1. Doug Ross

        What about Senators? They aren’t impacted by your plan. Did we really need Strom Thurmond in the Senate for all those years? What did his experience yield? Embarrassment?

        Anyway, let’s say you get your plan enacted. How soon would Jim Clyburn be voted out?

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I’m less concerned with voting Clyburn out than with creating an overall political environment in which he, and the Republicans in all those super-white districts created by cramming as many of the state’s black voters into Clyburn’s district as possible, behave differently — because suddenly, they have a cross-section of people and points of view in their constituencies.

          Clyburn NEVER has to consider what a Republican thinks, just as those white reps never have to consider the views of Democrats. And none of them worry about independents.

          And actually, senators would be affected, just to a lesser extent. They, too, operate in this hyper-ideological environment. They’re just affected less.

          Did we need Strom in that office all those years? No. But the majority of voters in our state disagreed.

          To paraphrase Mark Twain, I was born humble. Not all over, but in spots. And one of the spots is when you ask me whether I want to forbid people to elect whom they want to elect. I can be pretty elitist sometimes, but I try to draw the line at that…

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        To elaborate on my point about reapportionment, without having to do a lot more typing, here’s what I said about it back when Oscar Lovelace and Jim Rex were starting their new alternative party, which unfortunately embraced term limits in a big way:

        Before I close this report, a word about their embrace of term limits, which I believe is based in a misdiagnosis of what is wrong. Rex at one point spoke of how offensive the term “safe district” is, and he’s right. But he misses what is most offensive about it. The main problem is not that a district is safe for the incumbent (although the courts allowing incumbent protection as a basis for reapportionment is a problem). The problem is that it is drawn to be safe for a party. And the more extreme the two parties get in their polarizing ideologies, the worse the representation will be from that district.

        Rex speaks of the complacency of incumbents in “safe” districts. I don’t see them as complacent at all. I see them running like scared rabbits, constantly building their “war” chests to protect themselves, and against what? Not a challenger from the opposite party, or from some moderate independent. They’re protecting themselves against a challenge from someone in their own party who is more extreme than they are. They do two things to protect themselves from this — they raise money, and they become more extreme themselves, in their words and in their actions.

        And how do they raise money? They do it by constant appeals to their own partisans, making wild charges against the opposition, stirring fear and loathing in their bases. And that is the problem — that the current system rewards polarization and gridlock for their own sakes. They are good for the business of politics. And johnny-come-latelies are just as guilty of taking advantage of this dynamic as are incumbents. That is the cycle that must be broken by a party that appeals to reason, to moderation, to the interests that we all have in common rather than what divides us.

        If incumbents are replaced, who replaces them? Not some Mr. Smith goes to Washington, but a partisan who convinces the primary voters that he’s more extreme than the incumbent. Think what happened to Bob Inglis. Or any of those incumbents either taken out by, or seriously threatened by (which in turn affects their behavior and makes them more extreme), Tea Partiers in recent years.

        Anyway, enough about that. For now. These guys are trying to do a good thing, and they have enough of an uphill climb without me carping about the details….

  2. Juan Caruso

    “Most people who favor term limits think it would be a way to bind elected officials more to the popular will. They have it backwards. ” – Brad W.

    We disagree. Firstly, those incumbents who either choose or fail to be reelected generally do not become as wealthy as those remaining for “careers” like Lindsey. Secondly, were a tem-limited congressperson to ever feel “free them from slavish adherence to the popular idea of the moment” he/she would have to live with his/her convictions (consciences in the case of non-lawyers) back in the world they were representing, before affording the relative isolation of a Carribean retirement home.

    We do agree that Abramoff appears a poor choice of spokesperson, but retired lobbyists (mostly Dem lawyers) have offered very similar warnings about career politicians in their own books — without a personal history of indictment.

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