Take It to Term Limits
The reason Steven Hayward is lukewarm about term limits ("Same As The Old Boss," December) is captured in his claim that they "are no substitute for the changes in public opinion that would be necessary to shrink the size and scope of government." What happens when public opinion conflicts with congressional self-interest? There is overwhelming evidence that the public already wants a much smaller and less powerful government. A Democratic Leadership Council survey last November found 78 percent of voters agreeing that "the federal government has too much power." In 1973 only 32 percent agreed with the statement, "That government is best which governs least"; in 1996, 61 percent agreed.
Republicans and Democrats have the official government-funded political parties. The Supreme Court has sanctioned government discrimination against other parties. Incumbents of both parties are united in supporting large staffs and budgets for themselves, which lead to an average of $2 million in taxpayer money used for re-election by each incumbent in each two-year cycle. That's not counting the tens of millions in pork per district. Even those huge advantages could well be overcome if incumbents had not crim-inalized voluntary contributions of over $1,000 with the Federal Elections Commission and its speech regulation process.
Incumbents were not elected in free and open elections. Their interests as incumbent rulers conflict with the interests of ordinary citizens. An unpredictable, powerful, and profligate government enhances both their power and their invincibility on election day. In this corrupt environment, ordinary voting is futile. The term limits movement is promoting a new self-limit pledge to help voters separate career politicians from citizens and throw the careerists out of their stronghold in Congress.
Treasurer, U.S. Term Limits
Spring Green, WI
Steven Hayward makes a compelling case for term limits. However, he falls into the same trap as many statists--assuming that more government intervention is the solution, rather than the problem. Incumbents receive a government-provided advantage through unlimited mailings, newsletters, ability to gerrymander district lines, etc. The solution is to level the playing field by removing these costly privileges, rather than taking away the voters' right to choose the candidate who best represents their views.
The goal of term limits is not to have "fun" or to "cause paroxysms of outrage within the political class," as Mr. Hayward states. The goal is not even greater turnover in our legislatures. The appropriate goal is greater responsiveness from our elected officials. Term limits, by their nature, increase the percentage of lawmakers in office who cannot be re-elected, and therefore have no motivation to serve the voters.
In addition, as Hayward's article mentions, even an inexperienced legislature is clearly capable of passing intrusive legislation. Why throw out a legislator who has a proven record of limiting government authority and spending in exchange for an unproven, and in some cases far more statist, newcomer? Why do you want to take away my right to vote for the best representative instead of leveling the playing field so the best can win in a fair fight?
Finally, Hayward lets the electorate off the hook far too easily. No amount of campaign spending, no amount of free media or interest group support (short of outright fraud) can force an informed voter to flip one lever over another in the privacy of the voting booth. The Internet and other modern tools of communication put vast amounts of information at our fingertips. We cannot confuse a result we don't like with one caused by a broken system of government. As supporters of free markets, we have an obligation to sell the message of liberty--not just to re-rig the rules to favor our cause over our opponents'.
Mary Jo K. Baas
Steven Hayward replies: There's just no pleasing some people. Mr. O'Keefe complains that I am "lukewarm" about term limits (true), while Ms. Baas thinks I make a "compelling" case in their favor. Yet both make essentially the same complaint: Incumbents enjoy unfair advantages. Both underestimate the cognitive dissonance of voters. It is true that voters say they favor smaller government, but there is good reason to suspect this is superficial. If it were broadly true that voters favor smaller government, how does O'Keefe explain why the public turned against Congress in the 1995 budget fight, when only a small reduction in government was proposed? My point is that incumbency isn't the main problem, but to the extent that incumbency contributes to big government, "leveling the playing field," as Baas suggests, won't go far enough in reducing the power of incumbency, for many of the reasons O'Keefe suggests (especially the pork barrel). Only term limits can do that effectively.
Lest Ye Be Judged
In his review of A Matter of Interpretation: Federal Courts and the Law, by Antonin Scalia ("Vexed by the Text," December), Michael Greve concludes that Justice Scalia's jurisprudence of "textualism" (or "originalism") "is good news for the Constitution--and, on the whole, for libertarians." Respectfully, I must register a dissent.
I give Justice Scalia his due as a defender of liberty provided he can find a textual nail to hang his judicial robe on. In the area of the Fifth Amendment's Takings Clause, Justice Scalia has brilliantly argued for the plain and literal meaning of the clause--that private property cannot be taken for public use without compensation. And in the area of free speech (again, a right specified in the First Amendment), he has sided with "liberal" justices, voting to protect cyberspace from federal regulation in the Communications Decency Act case and the right to burn the American flag in protest. (He cast the fifth vote to overturn laws prohibiting flag burning because they violated freedom of speech.)