Saturday, December 13, 2008

Vince Flynn's term limits of a very different kind

I had been intrigued by the title for some time, but I finally picked up and read the novel Term Limits by Vince Flynn (Simon & Schuster, 1997).

In this fast-paced political action thriller on the Tom Clancy mold, a secret group of American ex-commandos publish a list of demands and start assassinating Congress members who defy them. Their demands are of a sort that the Club for Growth might make, sans sniper fire, such as reducing spending, freezing taxes, balancing the budget and -- my favorite -- using zero-based budgeting. Ha!

If those sound like far-fetched terrorist demands, just wait until you find out how a corrupt White House decides to fight back. By the end of the book, you will find yourself thinking the terrorists are the good guys, particularly when they issue challenges like this one: "Do not test us again or we will be forced to impose more term limits."

Needless to say, the term limits of the title are not the same kind promoted by this blog. But that's not to say there were no real-world political lessons in this book. In fact, Flynn surely understands and supports term limits of a more traditional sort. Consider this exchange between a lobbyist and a young freshman Congressman:

"[Rep.] O'Rourke, if you vote no on the president's budget, the American Farmers Association will be left with no other choice than to support your opponent next year." O'Rourke shook his head and said, "Nice try, but I'm not running for a second term."

Not only does he see how term limits encourage independent thinking, but in this description of a career politician -- and assassins' target -- he also clearly sees how tenure corrupts over time:

For the last thirty-four years he'd survived scandal after scandal and hung on to that seat like a screaming child clutching his favorite toy. Fitzgerald had been a politician his entire adult life, and he knew nothing else. He'd grown numb to the day-to-day dealings of the nation's capital. The forty-plus years of lying, deceit, deal cutting, career trashing and partisan politics had been so ingrained in Fitzgerald that he not only thought his behavior was acceptable, he truly believed it was the only way to do business.

At one point, fiction and fact merge when a journalist announces.

"The assassinations have thust into the spotlight some reforms that the American people have endorsed for some time. The idea of term limits has an approval rating of almost 90 percent."

In sum, Term Limits is guilty-pleasure reading for frustrated fiscal conservatives who like action movies. If that describes you, you may wish to pick up the paperback version of this New York Times bestseller, still in print.