The Bandwagon May Be Rolling Again
Thursday, May 25, 2006 :::
Sixteen years ago, the term limitation bandwagon got rolling in a very big way. With stunning victories (courtesy of statewide ballot initiatives), California and Oklahoma limited the terms of the legislators and Colorado went a step further, slapping a limit on its congressional delegation as well. Two years later, 14 states had approved term limits initiatives, and more followed in 1994. The momentum was so enormous, that even some in Congress took more than casual notice, as the (then) GOP minority added a term limits plank to the Contract with America.
The bottom fell out rather quickly, with a narrow Supreme Court loss on the constitutionality of state-imposed congressional limits and the failure of Congress to pass an amendment. The movement, such as it was, drifted into a defensive posture, and adherents to the cause (including me), began to drift away.
Today, however, in light of the jaw-droppingly tone deaf response of congressional leaders to the FBI visit to Rep. William Jefferson, the equally stunning Republican indifference to fiscal responsibility and a raft of other matters great and small, the old bandwagon may just start rolling again.
Part of me is very happy to see that the concept still has some life left in it. Part of me wonders where in the bloody blue hell these people were 12 years ago when we could have used their help (some, no doubt, were still riding the school bus at the time...ah well). But most of all, I'm left wondering whether any of this will make a sliver of difference.
Periodic spasms of public disgust with Congress are neither new nor different. Over the course of time, congressional follies and scandals have seen the wholesale defeat of incumbents and the promise of genuine reform...only to result in the eventual return to a pattern of arrogance, indifference and corruption. Does anyone remember the House post office scandal and Dan Rostenkowski's conviction? Abscam? Jim Wright and Tony Coelho's resignations? The perpetual fights over pay, perks and that most devilish of all "p" words, PACs?
It doesn't seem so. If more did, then there might be a realization that what we are seeing now is merely a repeat of the past, though so far, without the much wider and far more significant omens that we saw in 1992, for instance (when incumbent defeats in primaries reached what were then breathtaking levels).
No. Today what we have is a snit. It's a grand old snit, to be sure, and one that's coupled with profound disgust at what Congress seems to have become. But if I were to place the pieces on the board in line with what's come before, then we seem to be closer to a 1990-style mood and election than we are a 1992 or certainly a 1994 scenario. Disgust takes time to filter through the system and become a motivating force. As far from its philosophical moorings as Congress and the GOP appear today, they have paid little price for it so far. They may not, thanks to gerrymandering, pay any price this year, or even in 2008. The GOP is particularly fortunate that the Democrats seem to have neither a coherent, salable platform nor a galvanizing vision to offer voters. That could change -- recall that the Contract with America was introduced only a few weeks before the 1994 elections.
Minus that, the GOP may survive as the majority party. If they do, they will probably take it as a sign that their failings were largely overlooked. That would be a profound mistake, similar to the one the Democrats made in 1992. And it will open the door to someone on the other side who has a message similar in tone, if not specifics, to this one:
That is why in this era of official evasion and posturing, we offer instead a detailed agenda for national renewal, a written commitment with no fine print.
This year's election offers the chance, after four decades of one-party control, to bring to the House a new majority that will transform the way Congress works. That historic change would be the end of government that is too big, to intrusive, and too easy with the public's money. It can be the beginning of a Congress that respects the values and shares the faith of the American family.
Like Lincoln, our first Republican president, we intend to act "with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right." To restore accountability to Congress. To end its cycle of scandal and disgrace. To make us all proud again of the way free people govern themselves.
It's a message that works.
Until the next wave of arrogance, indifference and scandal rears its head.
::: posted by Norman Leahy at 5/25/2006