More On “Drain the Swamp”

Here’s What the Founders Thought About Term Limits

   The true “permanent political class” . . . . exists in the federal agencies.

Jarrett Stepman / December 16, 2016

            With the sudden dominance of Republicans in Congress, state legislatures, and, of course, the White House, conservatives have an incredible opportunity to restore constitutional principles to government.

            Several lawmakers have brought back the old idea of congressional term limits to “drain the swamp” on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post suggesting they will endorse a constitutional amendment to limit the number of times a legislator can run for re-election to the same office, an idea that was also popularized by President-elect Donald Trump during his campaign.

Cruz and DeSantis argued, “Though our Founding Fathers declined to include term limits in the Constitution, they feared the creation of a permanent political class that existed parallel to, rather than enmeshed within, American society.”

It is worth examining what the Founders believed about term limits and what, fundamentally, has gone wrong with our modern government that has expanded far beyond its originally intended bounds. That most Americans believe their government to be dysfunctional and corrupt should be a tip-off that there are deep problems at the heart of our institutions.

‘Rotation in Office’

The idea of term limits, connected to the notion of “rotation in office,” was popular during the early days of the American republic.

Founding-era citizens viewed term limits as a means to prevent corruption and distant, entrenched interests staying permanently in power. They worried that a lack of change in higher office could be destructive to republican government.

Under the Articles of Confederation, term limits kept representatives to three terms in any six-year period. However, after considerable debate, the idea was abandoned during the construction of the Constitution because many Founders were skeptical of forced rotation’s usefulness—though there were certainly strong advocates in its favor.

For instance, a 1788 pseudonymous essay likely penned by noted anti-federalist Melancton Smith suggested that while limiting terms in local elections was probably unnecessary, limits would provide a useful check on the power of federal legislators, who were “elected for long periods, and far removed from the observation of the people.”

The essay’s author worried that without a mechanism to push national legislators out of office from time to time, lawmakers would become “inattentive to the public good, callous, selfish, and the fountain of corruption.”

Trump Vows to Back Term Limits. So Do These 48 Lawmakers.

He continued to warn readers that “Even good men in office, in time, imperceptibly lose sight of the people, and gradually fall into measures prejudicial to them.”

Thomas Jefferson was also wary of abandoning rotation, and wrote to his friend Edward Rutledge in 1788, “I apprehend that the total abandonment of the principle of rotation in the offices of president and senator will end in abuse. But my confidence is that there will for a long time be virtue and good sense enough in our countrymen to correct abuses.”

But some of the Constitution’s strongest advocates rejected the notion that sweeping out legislators by law would reduce corruption.

James Madison wrote that term limits might actually lead to government dysfunction. He wrote that frequent elections were a better check on power than forcing legislators out of office by law.

Those who stood against term limits argued that regular elections by the people could be a better check on corruption than constitutional limits and that such restrictions would create their own problems.

Madison wrote in Federalist 53 that the higher proportion of new representatives swept into office due to term limits could lead to poor decisions and corruption from a wave of inexperienced legislators.

Madison surmised that the “greater the proportion of new members, and the less the information of the bulk of the members, the more apt will they be to fall into the snares that may be laid for them.”

Ultimately, the anti-term limits forces won out and the Constitution was ratified without them.

A Return to Term Limits

Even though the framers of the Constitution ultimately dropped term limits, the debate over rotation for federal officials continued into future generations.

Through the 19th century, a regular rotation in office was common as citizens and politicians believed by creed and custom that periodic changes in public office were healthy for the republic. There were also practical limits on time in office, like shorter life spans. In the 20th century, long-term incumbency increased substantially.

Growth in governmental scope produced less turnover and more careerism than previous eras. This led to a movement to curtail the power of near-permanent stays in office.

Anti-Establishment Mood Could Spur Revival of Term Limits

As Americans tried to curb the power of their government, proposals were adopted to circumscribe the executive, legislative, and even the judicial branch with term limits.

Term limits on the chief executive were introduced after the four concurrent elections of President Franklin Roosevelt.

While earlier presidents had served no more than the two-term precedent set by George Washington, FDR stayed in office nearly 13 years, prompting fears of a calcified presidency. So, in 1951, the United States ratified the 22nd Amendment to strictly limit the president to two terms.

Reformers set their sights on legislative incumbency too. A wave of states passed term limit restrictions on their legislators in the mid-1990s, and the reforms attracted broad and bipartisan support.

But the Supreme Court struck down these laws in U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton, in which they were struck down over conflict with Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution.

Many states passed term limits for their state legislators too, but according to some research, the results were mixed.

The term limits movement has been essentially dormant for over a decade.

A System Neither Constitutional, Nor Democratic

Unfortunately, over time, the American system of government has changed. The original checks and balances that the Founders incorporated into the Constitution have been twisted and undermined.

A surge of populism that goes hand-in-hand with the idea that the American people need to reassert their authority to “throw the bums out” of Congress will undoubtedly fuel the increase in popularity for term limits.

Yet it’s unclear what the ultimate effect of a term limit law would be. It will certainly solve the problem of Americans hating Congress, but re-electing their own congressmen. And it is also encouraging that Americans are starting to look at structural government dysfunction, rather than just focusing on elections and specific policies.

However, term limits will not address the larger problem of persistent big-government incursions of the unelected “fourth” branch of government: the vast federal bureaucracy.

The true “permanent political class” that Cruz and DeSantis warn of exists in the federal agencies.

A combination of the Civil Service Act of 1883, which, over time, has made it impossible to fire or remove career bureaucrats once they are hired, and the Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. Supreme Court case, which ensures judicial deference to the bureaucracy in regard to regulation, has made the fourth branch vastly more powerful and less accountable than anything the Founders conceived.

Progressive Era reformers successfully created a system that left long-term power in the hands of the technocratic agencies that would handle most of the business of government.

As Heritage Foundation legal fellow Elizabeth Slattery noted, the result has been the creation of unchecked agencies that “pok[e] into every nook and cranny of daily life.”

Unfortunately, it’s possible that term limits may further reduce the power of the legislative branch vis-à-vis the agencies, as inexperienced legislators may lack the bill drafting skills to tightly circumscribe agency action.

Term limits may add “rotation in office” to the legislative branch, only to cede additional power to a permanent class of bureaucratic staffers who do not even stand for election.

Additionally, studies on state-level legislative term limits have demonstrated mixed results. The kinds of people holding office generally change very little and the balance of power generally tips toward the executive branch and bureaucracy. Yet the power of party leaders typically declines as well.

How Trump Can Curb the Power of Unelected Regulators

As American political theorist James Burnham wrote:

            The bureaucracy … not merely wields its own share of the sovereign power but begins to challenge the older branches for supremacy. This emergence of the bureaucracy is a creeping growth, expressed most tellingly in the day to day, unpublicized activities of the governmental colossus …

            Perhaps limits on this system—which is neither constitutional, nor democratic—should be the next step for those who want to return to the Constitution and a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.


Tolerance – The Enemy Of Justice and The Revenge of Sarah Palin, Voth

Tolerance – The Enemy Of Justice


    Most of the liberal and “progressive” left are very good at calling for tolerance of their blatant lies and deceptions. Yet, they are intolerant of truth. Be it the adherence to untruths rejecting science holding to the scientific method, or the reality imposed on repetitive human behavior by valid history, those attacking the original intention of the Constitution transmit their prejudice and bigotry to all who challenge their false propaganda. Holding to a guise of political correctness, the enemies of freedom and justice for all have been allowed to heap their vitriol and angst on the undeserving made vulnerable by a Congress failing in its oath of office.


No more poignant example of their injustice being tolerated is available than what was generated impacting Sarah Palin. The following article puts their injustice in perspective.




December 12, 2016

The Revenge of Sarah Palin

Ben Voth

    Twenty-sixteen may turn out to be the year of the woman after all.  The woman of the year is Sarah Palin, who eight years ago was crucified by assorted media and elites in order to usher in the new transformation of America promised by Senator Obama.  Obama upset the heir apparent, Hillary Clinton, in a bruising Democratic primary fight, where establishment party politics succumbed to the youthful populism of Barack Obama.  His old-guard rival, John McCain, appeared an easy mark until the rogue upstart from Alaska electrified the Republican National Convention in the summer of 2008.  Palin’s feminist populism recharged the Republican connection with populism, even in the political headwinds of an economy heading south with each passing week.

    Tina Fey, Katie Couric, and a punditry arrayed in the classic left-wing formation acted to annihilate the once popular Alaska governor and seared into the popular imagination something Palin never said: “I can see Russia from my house.”  The sexist trashing of Palin is a hallmark of America’s arrogant ideological culture that puts women, African-Americans, gays, and all identity communities in their proper marginalized social place when they fail to adhere to the left’s ideological doctrines.

     One month after Obama’s victory against McCain and Palin, Palin’s Wasilla church was burned around its entire perimeter with women and children inside and temperatures outside at 20 below zero.  It was a political hate crime that got little media coverage.  December 12 is the anniversary of that crime.  Not too long after, Palin quit her position as governor and was roundly mocked as a quitter after being besieged by politicized allegations.  On July 3 of 2009, she explained:

    “In fact, this decision comes after much consideration, and finally polling the most important people in my life – my children (where the count was unanimous… well, in response to asking: ‘Want me to make a positive difference and fight for ALL our children’s future from OUTSIDE the Governor’s office?’ It was four “yes’s” and one “hell yeah!” The “hell yeah” sealed it – and someday I’ll talk about the details of that… I think much of it had to do with the kids seeing their baby brother Trig mocked by some pretty mean-spirited adults recently.) Um, by the way, sure wish folks could ever, ever understand that we ALL could learn so much from someone like Trig – I know he needs me, but I need him even more… what a child can offer to set priorities RIGHT — that time is precious… the world needs more ‘Trigs’, not fewer.”

    Since that time, Palin has played the kingmaker in political races across the American landscape.  The gradual erosion of Democratic Party power in local politics is in large part orchestrated by the political campaign fought by Palin since she stepped down from her post in Alaska.  The decision to endorse Donald Trump over a strong field of conservative Republican presidential candidates in 2016 – one year before his inauguration – may have been one of the most risky yet decisive actions taken by Palin.  At that point, the field was not clearly committed, and many thought she might endorse Carson, Cruz, or some other better known conservative.  Palin was among Trump’s first and most major endorsements that paved a path almost all pundits denied was possible – all the way to election eve.

     In many ways, a woman made Donald Trump.  Palin took the arrows and bullying of an elite class.  Her church was destroyed.  Her family was attacked.  She never stepped out of the spotlight or refused to speak up for her populist vision of America.  Had Palin’s endorsement gone another way, Trump might not have taken flight in the broad field of 19 candidates deployed by the RNC.

     There has never been any sense of remorse or apology from the left about what happened to Palin.  There has been no celebration of the feminism embodied in the female leaders of Trump today such as Ivanka Trump, Hope Hicks, and Kellyanne Conway.  Palin was a forerunner of the kind of countercultural resistance to identity-based politics played by American Jacobins.  The inauguration of Donald Trump will be Sarah Palin’s revenge, and it will pose a long-term threat to identity politics as we have long known it.

Ben Voth is an associate professor of corporate communication and public affairs and director of debate at Southern Methodist University.  He is the Calvin Coolidge Debate fellow and an adviser to the Bush Institute.