My father was a ‘self-made’ man. Armed with only an eighth-grade education, after serving in the military during World War II, he worked his way from the bottom up to become a successful hotel manager for one of the largest hotel chains at the time (1950s-1960s). With a few exceptions, those days are over and today an education is a ‘must’ in order to achieve a lucrative and satisfying career.
The framers of the U.S. Constitution wished to make the office of president accessible to a wide range of people, common people, people who understood the needs of the nation and its people. Therefore they did not stipulate an educational or experience requirement in Article II, clause 5. The only eligibility requirements are:
No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty-five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.
In 1787, when the Constitution was drafted and subsequently ratified, it was rare for a man to be college-educated, and in fact only about 60% of adults, excluding slaves, were literate. Making a college degree a requirement would have limited the number of people eligible to run to a handful of scholars. And making experience in federal government was a no-brainer … the Constitution was establishing the federal government, so there was no possibility in 1787 for anyone to have experience in the newly-created government.
Throughout the years, as times and attitudes have changed, there have been a number of amendments to the Constitution … 27 times, to be exact. Some amendments are to correct oversights in the original document, others to accommodate more modern thinking, such as the 13th amendment, ratified in 1865, prohibiting slavery, or the 19th, which prohibits denial of the right to vote based on gender. The original Constitution has proven to be a viable foundation for a democratic government, and has certainly withstood the test of time. The world, however, is dynamic, constantly-changing, and there are areas of the Constitution that need tweaking from time to time in order to keep up with ‘progress’.
I think the time has come to seriously consider two new amendments to the U.S. Constitution: First …
- Limits the number of times that a person can be elected to Congress to two terms of six years each for senators, and three terms of two years each for representatives.
Term limits for Congress were initially left out of the Constitution because the framers, though several had concerns, ultimately feared such a rotation could lead to governmental dysfunction.
“Even good men in office, in time, imperceptibly lose sight of the people, and gradually fall into measures prejudicial to them.” – anti-federalist Melancton Smith, 1788
“I apprehend that the total abandonment of the principle of rotation in the offices of president and senator will end in abuse. But my confidence is that there will for a long time be virtue and good sense enough in our countrymen to correct abuses.” – Thomas Jefferson, 1788
“[The] greater the proportion of new members, and the less the information of the bulk of the members, the more apt will they be to fall into the snares that may be laid for them.” – James Madison, 1788
By 1995, some 23 states had adopted term limits for their Congressional delegations. But in May 1995, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, ruled that in the absence of a constitutional amendment, neither states nor Congress may limit the number of terms that members of Congress can serve. Today, there is still debate over the value of term limits, but a recent poll shows that 3 out of 4 citizens are in favour of limiting Congressional terms.
More recently, in January of this year, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Representative Ron DeSantis from Florida, proposed a Constitutional amendment calling for term limits similar to those I stated above. In order to become law, the proposed amendment would need to be passed by a 2/3 majority in both chambers of Congress, then be ratified by three-fourths of state legislatures before going into effect. It faces an uphill battle, at best. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is against the idea, said, “We have term limits — they’re called elections.”
Until the last decade or so, my thinking was along the same lines as Senator McConnell. I believed that only those congressmen and women who were doing a good job would be re-elected. But, Mr. McConnell himself is a prime example that sometimes even the worst of the lot will be re-elected, for whatever reason. It is too bad, in a way, because we will likely lose some valuable talent if term limits are imposed, but I do think that it is an idea whose time has come.
Second, I would propose that we have a combined education/experience requirement in order to run for president, requiring a relevant four-year degree OR at least one of the following:
- Served as vice president of the United States.
- Completed one six-year term in the U.S. Senate
- Served at least six years (three full terms) in the U.S. House of Representatives
- Served at least four years in a cabinet post requiring Senate confirmation
- Completed a four-year term as governor of a state
- Retired from the military after achieving the rank of four-star general or admiral
If this sounds too restrictive, consider that every president dating back to President Truman would have qualified under these requirements except the current officeholder. In addition, the candidate should at least have read and understand the U.S. Constitution. Perhaps a simple written test? He/she should at least understand what it is they are swearing to uphold when they take the oath of office, unlike the current officeholder.
I do not anticipate either of these to become ratified amendments, at least not any time in the foreseeable future, but I do think that both are ideas whose time has come. Both have been proven to be shortcomings in our current law, allowing Congressmen to stay in office long after they have forgotten that their purpose is to serve We The People, and allowing a thoroughly incompetent, unqualified man to become president. Just something to think about …