Last Tuesday was Election Day. First, I didn’t know prior to Tuesday that there was any type of election taking place this week. Second, and probably more importantly, I didn’t really care that there was an election taking place. When my wife mentioned that she was going to vote, I simply shrugged my shoulders, wished her luck, and thought nothing else of it.
I confess that part of me felt like I had let the founders of our country down. The idea that we as a general population had the right and freedom to cast a vote and participate in the process by which our legislators and laws were selected had obviously been lost on me for the moment. People have battled and fought for generations for the right to vote and participate in the democratic process. And here I was, dismissing my right without a second thought.
Yet after the self-loathing wore off, I became frustrated and downright angry. Not angry with myself, mind you, but angry with the election process as a whole. I felt like the process had let me down, because it did not offer me anything worthwhile to vote for, and thus had deprived me of performing my right to vote.
I am intensely non-political, a weird position to take maybe, but mine nonetheless. I do not enjoy talking about politics, arguing about politics, or even thinking about politics. One reason is because I feel like I am not well informed and thus cannot discuss politics with any level of intelligence. The other reason is because even if I do engage in any discussions concerning politics, I feel dirty and polluted afterwards.
After she had voted, my wife was describing to me her experience and the measures and candidates on whom she placed her votes and it got me all riled up. It seemed like the measures and issues were the same as they have always been: raise taxes or don’t raise taxes and of course the ever-present term limits. Interestingly, when trying to explain one of the other measures to me, my wife was unsure as to what it specifically was intended to do and how best to place her vote. My wife is incredibly intelligent and certainly one of the smartest people that I know and if she couldn’t figure it out, then what hope is there for the rest of the voting public?
But let me get back to the measure that really got me going—term limits. I remember being so excited when I turned 18 that I was finally going to get the chance to place a vote—I remember that I voted for president and thought it was the coolest thing; to walk into the polling place, stand in the voting booth, poke the holes with the neat little poker-thing and get that little “I Voted” sticker. And I distinctly recall voting on a measure involving term limits. It seems that this is a measure that will never die—no matter if it prevails or gets defeated, someone will find a new way to get the measure on the ballot.
That got me to thinking with a perspective I had never before had. When I was 18 I remember voting for term limits. Hadn’t we seen enough of the same names on the ballots? The Eddie Murphy movie from 1992 called “The Distinguished Gentleman” is based on the principal that voters are ignorant and will vote for the name they recognize, even though that candidate has died and someone else is using the name. So I recall thinking back then how important term limits were.
Now, however, my thoughts have changed. As I said earlier, I don’t have a political agenda, but my aversion to the concept of term limits is based on my own frustrations with the election system as a whole. In my opinion, the support for term limits is founded in laziness. It is based on the belief that an incumbent will invariably prevail in an election and the legislature must even the scales and give the challengers equal opportunity.
To that I say no, no, no. If the incumbent has been in office for multiple terms, then it is the challenger’s burden to defeat him or her—not impose an arbitrary time period when a politician’s service must end. The challenger must educate the voting public of the incumbent’s lengthy service, poor record, what have you—it seems to be actually un-democratic to impose arbitrary limitations on a politician’s service. If the voting population believes, right or wrong, that an incumbent is worth re-electing, then who is the legislature to say otherwise? Doesn’t term limits actually deprive us of the right to elect the politician that we want to elect? Isn’t the idea of term limits actually divergent from the democratic concept?
I could go on about this for days and certainly would be interested in hearing your perspectives on this. But seriously, I am upset with the legislators who keep proposing term limits and placing the measure on the ballot because it indicates a laziness in the election process. It says to the voters that the challenger to the incumbents does not want to work hard enough to educate the public on the need to vote out the incumbent and is requesting that the voters, in approving term limits, do the job for them. And for that I am angry; angry that we are expected to elect the challengers who won’t work hard enough to get elected. So you tell me—what measures or candidates are worth voting for?
And on a separate note—what if the term limit requires the retirement of a politician in office who is actually accomplishing goals and making change? It was Franklin D. Roosevelt’s three and a half terms in office that led to the presidential term limits. But would World War II have ended the way it did if Roosevelt was a lame duck president? Who would have won the election instead? Perhaps a German sympathizer?
Above all else, I am sad—sad that my freedom to vote appears to me to no longer be valuable. I yearn for the day when a candidate or measure has sufficient enough impact to warrant my vote. Too bad I don’t live in Marin County. At least there I know that the candidate, Marc Levine, would be worthy of my vote… Oh well.
Maybe I’m wrong?