Widespread discontentment with our elected officials is perhaps the most unifying belief in American politics. This idea is corroborated by the most recent Gallup poll, which puts the Congressional approval rating at a dismal 19%.
And yet, despite this fact, incumbents are elected over and over again. Over the past decade, the reelection rate for incumbent congresspeople has hovered between 84% and 96.7%.
Congressional term limits would help us build a government we can be proud of by getting rid of the career politicians that often halt progress in the name of self-interest.
No one should make a career out of politics. It's one of the things the Founding Fathers got right the first time: a person should head to Congress for a few years before getting back to their regular life.
Political office should not be a personal ambition one strives toward but rather a public service to which individuals are called by legitimate and specific goals. In the current status quo, people often spend their whole careers trying to "climb the political ladder," adopting whatever poll-tested rhetoric is necessary.
The lack of Congressional term limits incentivizes corruption in our elected officials. Instead of trying to serve their constituents, Congresspeople simply spend their time working toward reelection. Most people don’t even hear from their representatives unless it's election season. Shortening the time people spend in Congress encourages altruistic governing by eliminating the ulterior motives that lurk behind too many policy decisions.
This system also breeds the complacency that makes Congress so infuriatingly ineffective. During the pandemic, the danger of inaction became increasingly apparent when, instead of fighting to protect those most vulnerable in the U.S. as our national economy crumbled, Congress sent out one round of stimulus payments in March and felt it had done its job.
Meanwhile, child hunger rose, millions struggled to make ends meet and countless small businesses shut their doors forever. Our leaders were absent when we needed them most.
Congressional term limits would also help create a government that actually represents the country it is meant to serve.
Political commentators were quick to demean Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY) for going from a bartender to a Congresswoman in 2018, as if her former profession somehow made her unqualified for office.
The truth is, we need more bartenders in Congress — and more farmers, truck drivers, waitresses, factory workers, teachers and scientists.
96% of Congress has a college education, and 214 members have law degrees. It is 75.8% male and 78% white. The net worth of the average Congressperson is $511,000 — almost 10 times greater than that of the median American family.
It's strange that most of our Congresspeople live so differently than the people they are meant to represent. Sure, legal expertise has its value, but more important than a J.D. is the ability to empathize with the people you serve. If an elected official cannot even fathom the struggles of their constituents — and makes no effort to do so — how fit are they really to be an advocate?
It’s not shocking that a ruling class of predominantly wealthy, white and male politicians, after holding relatively unrestricted access to power for years, would not produce results that benefit the majority of the country.
Terms limits would help abolish America’s political class and inject new life into our government.
The main obstacle to such a policy is that it would require politicians to willingly check their own power — which, if you haven’t noticed, isn’t exactly their style.
The only solution is to get to work.
We can fight establishment political figures with candidates in favor of term limits and hold our incumbents accountable by challenging them to explain why they oppose such a common-sense policy. It will be difficult, but with continued grassroots efforts, our voices can always win out.
Implementing congressional term limits won’t solve all the problems in our government, but it sure would be a step forward.
Claire Sullivan is an 18-year-old coastal environmental science freshman from Southbury, CT.