Following are excerpts from a speech on the House floor today by Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Republican of Illinois, one of the leading opponents of limiting congressional terms.
It is unpleasant to rise in opposition to something that is so near and dear to the hearts of so many of my colleagues and people whom I revere, but I just can't be an accessory to the dumbing down of democracy. And I think that's what this is.
And I might also say parenthetically that it is a little amusing to see the stickers that have been worn by so many of my colleagues that say, "Term Limits, Yes." It doesn't say, "Term Limits, Now." It says, "Term Limits, Yes." I'm reminded of the great and famous player of St. Augustine, who said: "Dear God, make me pure. But not now.". . .
If this were a trial, I'd call as my first witness the Founding Fathers who directly and unanimously rejected term limits. Chief Justice Earl Warren summed it up by quoting the Founding Fathers in the 1944 case of Powell v. McCormack, "A fundamental principle of our representative democracy is, in Hamilton's words, that the people should choose whom they please to govern them." As Madison pointed out at the convention, this principle is undermined as much by limiting whom the people can select as by limiting the franchise itself.
In 1788, during the New York debates on ratifying our Constitution, Robert Livingston asked, "Shall we then drive experience into obscurity?" He called that an absolute abridgment of the people's rights. . . .
To do your job around here you've got to know something about environmental issues, health care, banking and finance and tax policy, the farm problems, weapons systems, Bosnia-Herzegovina, North Korea, foreign policy, the administration of justice, crime and punishment, education, welfare, budgeting in the trillions of dollars, immigration. The list is endless, and we need our best people to deal with these issues. . . .
America needs leaders, it needs statesmen and it needs giants -- and you don't get them out of the phone book.
New is always better? What in the world is conservative about that? Have we nothing to learn from the past? Tradition, history, institutional memory -- don't they count anymore? They have a saying in the provinces, ignorance is salvageable, but stupid is forever. . . .
This corrosive attack on the consent of the governed stems from two sources -- one is well meaning but misguided, and the other are those who really in their hearts hate politics and despise politicians. Well, I love politics and politicians; they invest the one commodity that can never be replaced -- their time, their family life, their privacy and their reputation -- and for what? To make this a better country. . . .
The case for term limits is a rejection of professionalism in politics -- "career politician" is an epithet. Careerism, they say, places too much focus on getting re-elected and not on the public interest. That's a perfect non sequitur. You get re-elected by serving the public interest. . . .
Last June 6th I stood with Bob Dole, Sonny Montgomery and Sam Gibbons at Normandy.. . . I looked at some fo the names on those crosses -- young men buried over a thousand miles from home -- and I saw a cross with the words, "Here lies in Honored Glory a Comrade in Arms Known But to God," and you realized he died in the cause of freedom. And today you should realize that the right to choose who will represent you in Congress is a fundamental freedom. I can never vote to diminish that freedom -- and I hope you can't, too.
I speak for Sam Gibbons, Bob Stump, John Dingell, Sonny Montgomery and yes, Bob Dole. Fifty years ago our country needed us, and we came running. I think our country still needs us. Why do you want to stop us from running? Why do you want to drive experience into obscurity? Have you forgotten the report card we received last November?
Trust the people!