Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Blagojevich's third term

Up until last week, Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D-IL) was hinting he was going to run for a third term in the governor's office, but now he's more likely to get a term in prison.

That's one kind of term limit. But the more traditional term limitations also contribute to cleaner and more transparent government in several ways.

First, regular rotation in office necessarily widens the circle of those with an intimate knowledge of the office. With an entrenched incumbency, either in the executive or legislative branches, this knowledge as well as institutional memory is more closely held. Rotation disperses it and makes it easier for outsiders to peer in and blow the whistle when necessary.

Second, the hubris that leads to corruption is a function of tenure. In most cases corrupt politicians were not originally elected, perhaps decades ago, with the hubris and sense of entitlement that leads to their ultimate self destruction. Maybe they were even led to run for office for public spirited reasons. Ah, but that was long ago...

Ronald Reagan put it better when he'd say that candidates look at Washington and see a cesspool, but after a while in office they start seeing a hot tub.

Third, shortened tenure reduces the opportunity for corruption. Even a politician with a flawed character requires an opportunity for the corruption to manifest itself. Tenure offers the knowledge and opportunity necessary. Mixed with the arrogance of office, born partly of tenure, many politicians give in to temptation.

Gov. Blagojevich was caught; many are not. It behooves us build our public institutions in ways that retard such behaviors across the board. After all, if the FBI had not been listening to his phone calls, the governor could potentially have been seated for a third term, more corrupt and more powerful than ever.