Will They Keep Their Word?

Before the November elections, Republicans in Congress announced a "Contract with America." If voters would give them a majority in the House, the GOP declared, Republicans would introduce several "major reform bills." Chief among them is Term Limits. The Term Limits proposal would provide what the GOP called "a first-ever vote . . . to replace career politicians with citizen legislators." I can say amen to that. And voters did, too. Fifty-two new Republicans were elected to the House of Representatives. Republicans now have a majority in the House for the first time in 40 years. The GOP also won a majority in the Senate, but the "Contract with America" is a House Republicans' pledge. Its major proponent was Newt Gingrich of Georgia, who'll be the Speaker of the House when the new Congress convenes in January. But already Gingrich and the GOP leadership are making strange sounds—maybe Limits aren't necessary, one of the leaders said, since the voters showed they could clear the rascals out. Knowing politicians as I do, I'm not really surprised that the new leaders now seem to be waffling on Term Limits. It's easy to run as an "outsider" against the Washington Establishment. Then you win, and suddenly you're an "insider" and the new Establishment feels pretty good. This fact of politics was never better expressed than by Lord Acton, the English historian, who made this well-known statement a century ago: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." When they were out of power, House Republicans offered a "Contract with America." Now that they're in power, they're being tempted to keep the power for themselves. Believe me, I for one know how Acton's principle works. There are two reasons the GOP must keep its word on Term Limits. First, their credibility is at stake. President Bush angered voters when he broke his pledge not to raise taxes. President Clinton's inability to keep his "Covenant with America" is one reason he's so unpopular with millions of Americans. And now, if the new Republican leaders break their word, they'll also alienate voters who may return the favor and bounce them out of office next time around. The second reason is that limited government is good for America. The federal government has become bloated because of "career politicians" who create costly and intrusive programs just to win reelection every two years. But voters in November sent a loud and clear message: Americans don't want a Nanny State in Washington. They want the federal govern-ment to be leaner, less expensive, and less involved in their lives. And they want to get rid of "career politicians." That's why voters in 22 states have already passed Term Limits legislation. The biblical view of limited government was the original view of our Founding Fathers. Their model of public service was Cincinnatus, the great Roman statesman who had to be dragged from his farm to serve in government. As soon as he finished his public service, he went home. And he stayed there. Republicans who walk away from their word on Term Limits may not have to worry. I suspect they will be going home, courtesy of the voters who do not take kindly any longer to broken promises.


Chuck Colson


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