Tony Norman: Ease D.C. paralysis with federal term limits

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It will probably be weeks before House Republicans get all of the impeachment nonsense out of their system.

Despite Democrats being able to use the mere threat of impeachment to raise millions and galvanize a listless, mostly disappointed base, it remains the goal of every Republican House member to vote yes on as many articles of the president’s impeachment as they imagine apply.

On Capitol Hill, the Republican-dominated House has all but given up on passing laws for the remainder of Barack Obama’s term. These Republican congressmen see their job as primarily trolling the president and thwarting his initiatives, no matter how benign.

Despite a collective approval rating in single digits, most House Republican seats are safe because their districts were gerrymandered in favor of incumbency when they took the House in 2010. The fact that voter turnout is generally low also helps them hold on to their jobs. Their only fear is a primary challenge from someone even more extreme.

Meanwhile, Mr. Obama, who has visibly aged a decade in a job he has had for five-plus years, continues to govern like a centrist -- and even a conservative when it comes to civil liberties -- rather than the “left-of-center radical” his critics accuse him of being.

Though he has proved to be a master of retail politics in two relatively close presidential elections, Mr. Obama doesn’t have a natural affinity for D.C. gamesmanship or a feel for the intricacies of political theater like his Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton.

The president also dislikes huge swaths of the Washington press corps, mostly because of its tendency to be as dumb and morally compromised as the politicians it covers. Having jettisoned his charismatic persona for one of sober if uninspired consensus manager, Mr. Obama comes across as bored when he’s not trying to purposely move a crowd. His biggest aspiration is to be a conventional Democrat, not the agent of change he promised he would be in 2008.

To say I’m tired of conventional Democrats and their politics of cautious advancement is an understatement. For once, I want to vote for a Democrat who isn’t obsessed with being perceived as non-threatening and doesn’t fear being called a liberal or a progressive by half the country.

I believe Mr. Obama could’ve been that kind of Democrat, but he was constrained by one overriding concern from day one of his difficult presidency -- getting re-elected in 2012. Because of the politics of political resentment it would’ve stirred, the Bush administration was never held accountable for the botched wars it initiated in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Because Mr. Obama was so indebted to Wall Street money for his election, there was no serious thought of holding it accountable for the near collapse of the American economy in 2008,

Though he got the Affordable Care Act passed, there wasn’t a whole lot happening on other legislative fronts despite Democratic majorities in the House and Senate during his first two years. He was so busy seeking “consensus” with Republicans that he neglected to forge a progressive agenda that would excite his base. Meanwhile, the Tea Party put an end to going forward on any front.

Perhaps it’s naivete on my part, but Mr. Obama would’ve been a far better president if he knew going in that he would have one six-year term instead of the possibility of a second four-year term. Staying viable paralyzed him. If there weren’t a re-election to worry about, Mr. Obama could have stood up to Wall Street by prosecuting some criminals. He could’ve pushed for hearings on the Iraq debacle using his Democratic congressional majority.

Some will argue that it is inherently undemocratic to limit the presidency to one term, especially if the voters want a president to serve multiple terms. At one time, I would have agreed, but we’re living in one of the most polarized periods in American history, when the majority of citizens don’t vote and most congressional seats are noncompetitive.

What can be more undemocratic than an electorate that has checked out and presidents who can’t move forward because of re-election anxiety? Let’s limit Congress to three terms and the U.S. Supreme Court justices to 20 years each, too, to jump-start interest in American politics again.

New faces, new energy, new possibilities. That’s the kind of democracy I’m talking about.


Tony Norman:tnorman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1631; Twitter @TonyNormanPG.

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