Fixing A Corrupt Congress: Term-Limits #1b

Fixing America’s Corrupt Congress: Term-Limits #1b

The title of this first blog on Term Limits asserts that Term-Limits are an important partial cure for  a Corrupt American Congress.

In order move to assertion # 2 in the title, that Term-Limits are a fix, it is important to provide evidence of assertion #1, that our Congress is corrupt.

I am a psychologist, not a political scientist. Therefore I will draw heavily on the writings of those who are experts on this matter and also the intricate workings of our complex government that are shaped by the various financial, political and social influences that forcefully impinge upon it.

As a psychologist, I was taught that there is no such thing as human nature. After 36 years a professor and concurrent practicing psychologist, I must assert that there definitely is something that deserves to be called “human nature”. The thoughts, perceptions, emotions and behaviors of human-beings are heavily determined by the Laws and Principles of Psychology. Of these, there are too many to discuss in this context. However, it is our characteristic great susceptibility to these influences that I view as human nature.

Any modern Introductory College Psychology Textbook will help establish the validity of what I am stating. We now know more about the determinants of our own behavior than ever before and most of our population, including those who serve in our governments are ignorant of what makes all of us behave as we do.

With regard to the application of principles of psychology to the design of a better socioculture, we remain in a primitive state.

What is considered by many psychologists as the premier Law of psychology, constantly shaping human behavior, is the “Law of Effect”. This law can be simply stated: “consequences control behavior”. 

Speaking non-technically, the lack of rewards; the presence of rewards; or the presence of punishments following various human behaviors will influence the future probability (frequency, or rate of occurrence) of our behaviors. When we behave in certain ways and we are not rewarded, these behaviors tend to occur less frequently. When we behave in certain ways and we are rewarded, these behaviors occur with increased frequency. When we do certain things and our actions are followed by punishment, we tend to do these things less often.

Such changes in our behaviors are not perfectly certain to occur, in all individuals, under all circumstances. But statistically speaking, among our species, they are very likely to occur the ways that the science of psychology can easily predict.

There is much more to this picture, but the Law of Effect and its many influences upon everyone is a great place to start.

Corruption can be defined as dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, normally involving some form of bribery to behave in unethical or illegal ways.

I know of no statistics on this matter. But, I am confident that there are many highly principled people who are very hard to corrupt. However, based upon my 55 years of adult observations (since 20 years of age), a great  many humans are easily corrupted. Furthermore, many citizens who live apparently moral and ethical lives have long been corrupted, but skillfully disguised this fact.

Now to the point: The politics of Congress (and politics in general) have evolved into a system of rewards and non-rewards, with very few punishments for bad behavior, that bring powerful corrupting forces to bear upon all of our elected servants. Of course, these forces have always been present. However, for many reasons, they have increased in both frequency of occurrence and magnitude in recent times. The result is, predictably, an increase in frequency and magnitude of corruption among our politicians.

Too many in Congress are strongly shaped into dishonest and/or fraudulent behavior patterns by those who have the power to reward them with glory and fame, political longevity, sexual favors, money, blocks of voters, lucrative consulting or business opportunities, and the ability to vote themselves various privileges, comforts, and recreational rewards, etc..

The recent actions of American politicians in-and-out of Congress should be enough to confirm my observations. However, if you are a skeptic please consider the following, which predates many of our more current examples of political corruption flooding the media.

At the end of this blog is the URL for an entire article that I will draw upon for short authoritative quotes in my series of blogs on this topic. I hope you will read this article in its entirety when you have the time.

Fixing America’s problems with political corruption will require the imposition of  Term-Limits.

The following is quoted from, Term Limits: The Only Way to Clean Up Congress, by Dan Greenberg of the Heritage Foundation.


Argument #1: Term limits are undemocratic.

Perhaps the most popular argument against term limits is that they restrict the choices available to voters. Voters, say opponents, should be able to vote for as wide a field of candidates as possible. Additionally, the ballot box makes statutory term limits unnecessary. “In effect, there are term limits in place every two years — candidates have to go before constituents and get reelected,” says Jeff Biggs, press secretary for House Speaker Tom Foley. (Debbie Howlett, “Speaker Foley Challenges Home State Term Limit,” USA Today, June 8, 1993, p. 8A.) But arguments that term limits are undemocratic because they restrict voters’ choices run into two problems: (1) the tremendous electoral advantages enjoyed by incumbents make it difficult to argue that the elections they win are truly democratic, and (2) term limits would be more likely to expand the field of candidates than to restrict it.

Because the perquisites of office present huge barriers to entry by challengers, incumbents always have the privilege of fighting a defensive war. Taxpayer-funded benefits like franking, staff, and travel allowances tilt the field in incumbents’ favor, and political donors — who typically view their contribution as wasted if it does not go to the winning candidate — magnify these incumbent advantages by disproportionately favoring candidates already in office. In 1992, House challengers raised 28 cents for every campaign dollar received by incumbents, while Senate challengers raised 47 cents. (Ornstein, Mann, and Malbin, Vital Statistics on Congress 1993-1994, p. 81, table 3-5.) Challengers’ donations relative to those of incumbents have been dwindling more or less steadily since 1980. It is no wonder that challengers facing such long odds routinely lose to incumbents over 90 percent of the time.

Term limits will likely end incumbents’ traditional ability to insulate congressional elections from true competition. In fact, experience at the state level suggests that voter choice actually is increased by term limits. In California, for instance, the imposition of state-level term limits in 1990 led to a 1992 increase of over 25 percent in candidate filings for the state senate and over 50 percent for the state assembly; senate candidate filings for 1994 reflect yet another increase, and while assembly candidate filings have dropped from 1992, they remain 15 percent higher than they were in 1990. Although the limits do not take effect until 1996, they have encouraged some incumbents to find other work before they were forced to do so. (Armor, op. cit.)

Term limits also would ensure regular opportunities for candidates’ political advancement. For instance, when George Mitchell announced his retirement from the U.S. Senate, candidates in Maine attempted advances at all levels of government. There were “city council members running for state representative, state representatives running for the state senate, state senators running for Congress, and United States representatives running for the Senate.” (“Mitchell’s Decision Not to Run Sets Off a Statewide Scramble in Maine,” The New York Times, June 16, 1994, p. A24.)

By creating more choices for voters, increased filings like those in Maine and California aid democracy. Nationwide, congressional term limits likewise will create more choices for voters, more competitive elections, and more democracy.


Quote Source:

V. Thomas Mawhinney, Ph.D., 9/9/16


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