Monday, May 18, 2009

Entrenched incumbency a result of 'stupidity?'

The Wall Street Journal today published a letter I wrote in response to an anti-term limits letter. Here it is:


In his May 11 letter ("Haven't You Noticed Term Limits Are in the Constitution"), Thomas J. Miranda claims that "the Constitution already provides for term limits," but that people "are too stupid" to do their constitutional duty and vote their representatives out of office.

He is right that over 90% of U.S. House incumbents are routinely re-elected to their seats, but "stupidity" is not the explanation. In 2008, 55 incumbent seats went unchallenged. In many more seats, the incumbent was challenged by a drastically underfunded candidate who didn't receive meaningful support from their own party. And many of these were simply gadflies.

This situation did not occur because people are stupid, but for the very rational reason that against such odds it does not pay for successful, goal-oriented people to run for office against incumbents. It is rational for parties to avoid using limited resources on unwinnable seats. Meanwhile, special interests quite rationally fill the coffers of and maintain their relationships with entrenched incumbents.

For these reasons among others, voters get lousy choices and incumbents are practically unbeatable. Term limits would change this dynamic by providing open, competitive races at regular intervals in every congressional seat. It's a smart idea.

Philip Blumel
Atlantis, Fla.