I have blogged about the lack of term limits in the Senate and House of Representatives. Others have expressed their dismay as well. It was clearly an oversight on the part of the framers and was corrected in the case of the President but not in the case of the other national offices. I have also spoken about the fact that the Senate ties the hands of the President and makes it impossible for him or her to do the job. This situation is simply exacerbated by the length of time many of the Senators remain in office. I stand by my claims in that earlier blog. Henry Adams thought it a blunder of immense proportions and I would have to agree.
There is an obvious case in point as Orin Hatch, Republican Senator from Utah, recently failed in his attempt to win the endorsement in his home state and will have to run in a primary to regain his senate seat. He’s a good bet to win for the seventh time. The man is 78 years old (which doesn’t seem so old as I approach that age) but it reflects 36 years in the Senate and tremendous power in the form of committee chairmanships. In fact, Hatch stands to be the chair of the Finance Committee if a Republican majority wins in November, which is likely with the economy in the fix it is in.
In any event, a story about Hatch tells us that The senator on the campaign trail has been promoting his potential ascension to the chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee if Republicans win a majority in the Senate this November, something he emphasized in his last pitch to delegates gathered here Saturday.
“I’m not impressed by the title and neither should you be,” Hatch said prior to the first round of voting. “But believe me when I say that a strong and experienced chairman can make all the difference in the world,” he added to cheers from the audience.
The man’s a pro. “I’m not saying that it is important to have me in that chairmanship, but believe me it is vital.” This is what we call innuendo, and it is a powerful and persuasive rhetorical tool. It’s something like intellectual slight-of-hand. Now you see it, now you don’t. Clearly, Hatch thinks (a) that the Republicans will achieve a majority again in November, and (b) an experienced Senator like himself will be assured of the chairmanship of an important committee where he will be in a position to benefit those who vote for him. His opponent for the Republican nomination, being new to the job, will not. You gotta love it!
But we should have learned by now not to put much stock in what politicians say and while it is true that a veteran Senator has a much better chance of getting a key chairmanship than a new person, there is every reason to elect new blood into the Senate. The idea that a man or a woman could remain in such a powerful office for nearly 40 years was never in the minds of the framers of the Constitution, who envisioned a fluid political organization with what Thomas Jefferson called a “rebellion” every 20 years. Though he may have been referring to Shays’ rebellion in 1787 which almost certainly hastened the ratification of the Constitution, he may also have meant a non-violent rebellion, a radical shake-up of the status-quo. This seems likely since in calling for a rebellion every 20 years Jefferson hopes to avoid “lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty.” He was convinced, as were the others who were in on the founding of our Republic, that there would be change and that change would be a good thing.
As it turns out, of course, the Senate is filled with ancient relics, immensely wealthy men (mostly) who hang on to power like grim death. These days the job pays very well while in the early days it did not when it actually involved personal sacrifice. Perhaps that is why the framers thought people would not stay in office very long. In any event, today’s longevity is not the way it was supposed to be, and I say again that the Constitution is in need of serious revision to accommodate the oversights and the many violations of the spirit, if not the letter, of the framers’ original intentions.