One of the issues that the conservative opposition rallied around in the 1994 November revolution was Congressional term limits. In fact, a constitutional amendment to enact term limits was proposed in Congress by Newt Gingrich. Unfortunately (but not unsurprisingly), it didn’t get the supermajority of votes required to proceed to the next step. It is curious, that with an even more intense anti-establishment passion sweeping through America today, the term limit issue has been strikingly absent.
I thought about this when I read an obituary of Congressman - and legendary porker - Jack Murtha in early February. What struck me was how virtuous Murtha’s early life had been in contrast to his later career as a congressman. It was only the more recent part of his life that I knew. When he was younger, he was a Marine and a small businessman. He volunteered to go back to active duty so that he could fight in Vietnam, where he was wounded twice and served with distinction. He was the first Vietnam combat veteran elected to Congress. In the early 1980’s he was an anti-communist stalwart in Congress. But after 30 years in Congress he had become a caricature of a corrupt politician, whose chief bragging point - aside from groundlessly accusing US Marines of war crimes at Haditha – was how much federal bacon he could bring home (such as the airport to nowhere, in his riding).
I noted the same moral trajectory when I read, by chance, a biographical sketch of Charlie Rangel, the black Congressman from Harlem, who is chiefly know these days for being the epicenter of scandals too numerous to mention. What I learned was that he too was a war hero. He volunteered for the Army when the Korean War was on. This is what it says about him in Wikipedia:
Rangel then enlisted in the United States Army, and served from 1948 to 1952. During the Korean War, he was a member of the all-black 503rd Field Artillery Battalion in the 2nd Infantry Division. In late November 1950, this unit was caught up in heavy fighting in North Korea as part of the U.N. forces retreat from the Yalu River. In the Battle of Kunu-ri, Rangel was part of a vehicle column that was trapped and attacked by the Chinese Army. In the subzero cold, Rangel was injured by shrapnel from a Chinese shell. Some U.S. soldiers were being taken prisoner, but others looked to Rangel, who though only a private first class had a reputation for leadership in the unit. Rangel led some 40 men from his unit, during three days of freezing weather, out of the Chinese encirclement; nearly half of the battalion was killed in the overall battle. Rangel was awarded a Purple Heart for his wounds and the Bronze Star with Valor for his actions in the face of death. He was also awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, the Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation, and three battle stars. In 2000, Rangel reflected with CBS News that "Since Kunu Ri – and I mean it with all my heart, I have never, never had a bad day."
After Korea he became a lawyer - back in the pre-affirmative action days, when an up-and-coming black man really did have to battle a headwind of discrimination.
Both men ended up being long-serving Congressmen. I think the lives of each man illustrates the moral lesson that too much time in Washington can corrupt anybody. In their youth, both were virtuous model-citizens. But, after spending half a lifetime in Congress, both had morphed into jabba-the-hut-like succubuses who were only interested in scamming tax dollars and advancing big government.
America needs more early Jack Murthas and Charlie Rangels and fewer of the latter incarnations. Both life stories are an argument for citizen legislators and term limits, and an argument against career politicians who never want to return home.
Bring on term limits!