The Conversation

Hooray for permanent incumbency...?

In response to Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) 57 Years / 20,997 Days and Detroit:

I thought all those bipartisan huzzahs for Dingell's six decades of "service" - including a salute from House Speaker John Boehner, who called Dingell "one of the greats, and a very definition of a man of the House" - were positively surreal.  The ruling class loves to salute itself, and Republicans are often eager to "reach across the aisle" and join in... but what are the rest of us celebrating, exactly?

We desperately need term limits to prevent careers like John Dingell's.  We don't need octogenarian incumbents holding their seats for a lifetime, accumulating massive amounts of power because they come from machine districts that return them to office until they barely have the strength to show up and vote.  

Liberals love to talk about a "living Constitution" and how the powdered-wig relics who wrote it couldn't possibly understand the modern era.  How's a guy elected to the House in the "Happy Days" era supposed to stay on top of our fast-changing high-tech world?

Getting re-elected is fairly easy.  Even in a big, bold "change" year, the re-election rate is something like 80 or 85 percent.  Incumbents have staggering advantages over challengers, particularly in highly polarized areas where the incumbent from the favored party has little to fear from a challenger in the general election, and has to really screw up to lose a primary.  Far too many congressmen and Senators serve until they decide to retire, or die in office.  

Term limits might not make those "safe" districts more likely to flip, but they'd prevent Jurassic incumbents from piling up ridiculous amounts of power... and then running for perpetual re-election as the guy who will use his ridiculous amounts of power to loot the less entrenched congressional districts and bring home the bacon.


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