Term Limits and Democracy
When someone holds the same elected position for ten, twenty, even thirty or more years, it’s not hard to see why some people might think something is fishy, especially if it’s a top executive position like a President or Prime Minister. They must be using some underhanded tactics in order to keep their position for so long, subverting democracy and being a ruthless dictator rather than a democratically-elected leader. On the other hand, were they not elected by the citizens again and again and again, confirming it was actually democracy that put them there for so long? For the USA, self-appointed bastion of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’, the truth of the matter is not so simple.
I think there are three ways that you can end up with long-term politicians.
The first, most purely democratic way is that the politician does a good job of listening to the needs of the majority of their voters and does all they can to satisfy those needs. If you have someone who is doing their job of serving your interests in government very well, why would you vote for anyone else? Most socialists believe this scenario of faithfully serving the constituents to be the reason for long-term socialist politicians, whether they be Americans like Bernie Sanders or popularly-elected leaders of socialist nations like Maduro and Morales.
The second way, while still technically democratic in nature, is when a politician, whether serving the interests of their constituents or not, simply has no competition. If you are the only person running for the position, and your voting system is one of multiple-choice rather than Yes/No, you will get that position, and if this single-candidate scenario continues, you will be assured your position.
The third way, the most popular and necessary way for American politicians, is that of manipulation. For some, they pretend to be virtuous and follow the first way, of serving the constituents, and then once established and comfortable, drop all pretenses of public service and rely on reputation and familiarity to defeat electoral opponents. For others, they do whatever they can to bring about the second way, of not having any opponents, whether it is through buying them off, blackmailing them, intimidating them, changing laws to make them ineligible to run, out-advertising them with both self-promotion and attack ads, or even outright assassinating them.
A critical requirement of this manipulation is superior capital. Unlike socialist countries that give electoral candidates truly equal promotion, in capitalist countries like the US, you are only promoted if you have the money to do it. Whether that money is your own, comes from grass-roots fundraising among your constituents, comes from the coffers of your political party, or comes from billionaires and corporations, is of no consequence in the current state of American politics. The more money you have available, the more you can manipulate the election in your favor.
It is in this way that American politicians are systematically sold to the highest bidder. Capitalists use their wealth to manipulate elections after politicians swear their allegiance, whether directly or through an alignment of stated values and policy platform. Rather than persuading voters with service in the interest of those voters, politicians serve the interests of the capitalists who manipulate voters into re-electing them.
Imposing term limits in capitalist countries will do a little to prevent capital from manipulating elections. Rather than focusing all efforts on important long-term politicians, there would be a constant need to find new politicians willing to serve the providers of that capital. However, it would not solve the problem of capital influencing elections, and it would prevent politicians who actually serve their constituency from continuing to serve.
Limiting terms of office is attractive to many in the USA because it would reinforce one of the myths many Americans have about politics. In a democracy, power is not supposed to be concentrated under any one group, nobody may become too powerful, all sides and opinions are represented. For one person to stay in office for a long time is to give that person too much power, to neglect other sides and opinions. A constantly revolving door of politicians seems like a bastion of diversity of perspectives and opinions.
Seeing politicians stay in power for a long time is reminiscent of monarchy and dictatorship, of earning power through force rather than the consent of the people. Coupled with decades of propaganda claiming elected socialist leaders to be dictators, it’s no wonder Americans fall for it wholeheartedly; the idea of long-term leaders goes against what they think democracy looks like, so leaders like Maduro and Morales must be dictators.
Naturally, like most other things in America, this diversity, this de-concentration of power, is simply a myth. Though many political parties exist, only two parties wield almost all of the power. Of these two parties, both are the servants of capitalists and of capitalism in general. Looking at history only confirms that the US government was not only originally intended to exclude the interests of the poor and the oppressed, it has continued down that path until today, giving out even superficial rights to the poor and oppressed only after much reluctance, slyly restricting and sometimes even rescinding those rights altogether when possible.
It won’t matter if, over the next 20 years, we somehow have four terms of Biden as president or a back and forth flurry of five different Democrats and Republicans. They will all serve the same capitalist interests, the interests who paid for them to be nominated and elected, the interests who ensure through manipulation that no third party ever gains hold of even a smidgen of real power. It doesn’t matter if McConnell or Pelosi or Schumer stay alive and in office another 20 years or get forcibly replaced by some other figureheads due to imposed term limits, they won’t serve the interests of the people, not until capital is systematically prevented from manipulating elections.
If Americans ever realize that they’ve only been fed the myth of democracy instead of real democracy, the capitalist class will be in for a rough time.