Resolutions and term limits

Last month was the time to make New Year Resolutions. I missed my chance back then to make my usual procrastinator’s resolution: “I promise to always put off until tomorrow what I could have done yesterday.”

I guess I don’t really need to make that resolution every year because it just seems to come to me naturally. One of the main examples is that I invariably find that despite good intentions of writing this column well ahead of time, it always seems to end up having to finish writing it sometime in the early a.m. to meet my deadline, like maybe 1 a.m. or later.

There is another resolution that I should make with regard to this column: I should never say what I will be writing about until after I have pretty much prepared the entire column. A couple of columns back I made the mistake of mentioning that sometime I will say a word or two why I don’t believe in setting term limits for elected officials. Well I guess the time has come when I need to do something about that so I do not become a liar. So here goes.


Back before I was 21 and could vote in a presidential election, I tried to be at least a little knowledgeable about various political issues, locally, nationally and internationally. My first presidential election was in 1960 (Kennedy vs. Nixon). It was another 12 years (1972) before 18 year olds could vote in elections (26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution approved in 1971).

Before I turned 18 I had visited the U.S. Congress in Washington, D.C. and the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York City. I was fortunate to have been to a President Harry Truman talk at Memorial Hall in Dayton, Ohio, when Truman was president as well as to a talk by Eleanor Roosevelt at the NCR Auditorium in Dayton shortly after her successful leadership role in working toward the development of the United Nations. As a member of the Junior Council on World Affairs, I participated in mock conventions for both Congress and the General Assembly.

In my junior year of high school (1954) I helped run a mock election between Frank Lausche and Jim Rhodes who were running for Ohio governor. My support was for Lausche who at the previous public election had defeated Charles Taft (younger son of President William Taft.) Lausche won the mock election and the real election and two years later became one of the two Ohio senators, serving two terms in the U.S. Senate. Lausche, though a democrat, was supposedly considered by President Dwight Eisenhower to be a possible running mate.

One of the controversial issues during this time was term limits of the U.S. presidency. My observation even at that time was that I saw nothing wrong with FDR’s running for his third term and being successful in his role as a third term president. Of course the fourth term election at which he was also successful (in 1944) was marred by health problems (and age) and ultimately death, but his successor, President Truman, did a credible job (I believe) as well.

In 1951, after passage of the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution saying a person cannot be elected to a third term, no one could serve more than 10 years as president. Recall that Truman was elected president only once – in 1948 when he defeated Thomas Dewey. The 22nd Amendment allowed a person a maximum time in office of no more than 10 years. That is, he/she cannot be elected even a second time if he/she had occupied the office for over two years by reason of filling the vacancy without being elected. Also, the 22nd amendment did not apply for someone in the office at the time of passage. So Truman could have run again and ultimately completed just under 12 years as president. But it was time for new leadership.

Incidentally, U.S. Grant and Theodore Roosevelt both ran for third terms, but were defeated. Furthermore, both Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama thought a third term might have been good.

One argument not to have term limits is that with term limits, good presidents (representatives, senators) are forced to retire. That is, term limits artificially prevent a build-up of experience. One might ask why term limits are needed when elections can do the same job in a more democratic way.

First termers in Congress (as well as the presidency) need a period of time to learn “the ropes.” I think of bureaucrats as being those people who work in government who are not elected. Term limits would cause more power to go to the bureaucrats who gain from their experience over many more years.

A bit of history (or trivia), Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia is the longest serving senator, having served over 51 years there. That meant being elected nine times with senator terms being six years.

Even more amazing to me is Representative John Dingell, Jr. of Michigan who served just under 60 years before retirement in 2015. That meant running for office 30 times with representative terms being two years. THERE’S MORE. John Dingell, Jr. had succeeded his father who had served the 22 years before him. AND MORE. In 1981, John had married Debbie who in 2015 was elected to succeed her husband so that in 2019, the three Dingells had served a total of 86 years in Congress.

Until next time: Oh, Fiddlesticks!


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