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THOM ANDERSON: If we want compromise, we may need term limits

THOM ANDERSON: If we want compromise, we may need term limits

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Among our major problems as we approach this election is the loss of faith in government by such a large number of our citizens.

We need to take a big collective national breath and look for ways to make it work better. Some of the loudest voices we hear around us now are those saying that we must “take our country back.” Besides wondering from whom we are to take it back, I wonder in whose hands it would be after being “taken back.”

It appears to me that those so willing to make big changes have no idea what those changes would be if they succeeded. History is full of cases in which many favored and supported ouster of a form of government only to get one worse.

Looking back at a case when a congressional leader calls for his colleagues to band together and make a president a failure, then uses what they contend is his “failure” to advance their side politically, it seems to me one of the great problems we have now is that our government for the most part is being run by professional politicians.

The Founders, perhaps naively, seemed to expect when they set up our executive and legislative branches for public-spirited men (I’m sure they were thinking only men at the time) to run for offices, serve a term or two and then return to their civilian families and live happily thereafter.

Unfortunately, now career politicians get into office, and instead of serving their country or state for a period and returning to their real lives, they seek continual advancement in politics and have no intention of leaving political office – unless the voters insist.

I never thought I would say it, always having felt that the people should have complete choice of whom they want to represent them, but I’m convinced now that we should have term limits on members of Congress and probably the state legislature. If a continued political life were not offered them, perhaps more officeholders would put what they believe is better for their country or state ahead what is good for themselves and their parties. (Since things have changed over the centuries, too, we expect the political officeholders to include women.)

Limiting the terms of congressional members might make them more independent and able to follow their consciences rather than party dictates.

Then there’s the money, and that brings us to Citizens United, the worst ruling ever by the U.S. Supreme Court. Both sides point their fingers at each other for seeking big donations while both of them do it. There is a vacancy on the court that could furnish the vote to overturn Citizens United, and the winner of this election will fill that vacancy. Many people will vote for whomever they think is most likely to make the right choice.

Citizens United helps clear the way for big money people to dump huge money into political campaigns and buy officeholders. It is incredible that otherwise sensible people would believe that money is speech. Everybody has the right to free speech, but buying key members of government is not speech. It is buying more influence than any rich person or big corporation is entitled to.

Which party is worse about letting big money make decisions that should be left to the people? Only the insiders would know for sure.

What we most need is pretty simple – just compromise, something foreign to the most dogmatic groups.

One of my sharpest memories is of a letter to a South Carolina newspaper several years ago condemning a S.C. senator. The letter raged, “We didn’t send him to Washington to compromise with the likes of Ted Kennedy!” Actually, that’s exactly what The Founders expected – compromise to get things worked out.

It would be the next thing to a miracle if it happened, but moderates need to form their own party or coalition or whatever we might call it between the extremes of our political culture and join one side or the other from time to time to find workable compromises.

It’s fine to discourage government overspending but not to leave debt unpaid, fine to be religious but not to impose one’s beliefs on others. Compromise is a wonderful thing.

Thom Anderson is a former editor of the Morning News. Email him at

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