Restoration : Congress, term limits, and the recovery of deliberative democracy



Transcription of Annotations

Notes on half-title: 1932--Big change, Rhetorical Presidency--136, Bush 138, TV, Cold War. The President/judicial branch belong on the periphery/Congress at center. Term limits break careerism. 1st/2nd Continental Congresses--1774/1775. 1% of Americans, 1/3 of sample would almost never trust Congress to do the right thing. Book written to give rationale for limit on number of consecutive terms members of a legislature can serve. Term limits included in 15 resolutions of the Virginia Plan. Son of philosophy professor. 3rd year as academic, offered position on staff of Senator. Allot. Spent 3 years on Capitol Hill. Academia, politics, journalistic commentary. It is that ideas matter. The Wall, Stock Market, Desert Storm. Harbor no hostility toward government or Congress. There is a scorched-earth, pillage-and-burn conservatism that is always at a rolling boil. Capitol is noblest public building in daily use anywhere in the world. Autumn 1991--American discontent became qualitatively different. When Lincoln founded Dept. of Agriculture it had one employee for every 1,694 farms. Today one employee for every 16 farms. Cynicism--America a world class producer. Senator Robert Byrd. 5 term limit, Byrd in 6th term in 1992. When Byrd became Appropriations chair in 1989, promised to slosh $1 billion into West Virginia in his first 6 years--did it in less than 3. If people served only briefly in legislatures, going to them from other careers to which they would return, less incentive to shovel out pork. If legislators not too separated for too long from normal citizens/life/communities might retain ability to discriminate between appropriate/inappropriate functions for federal government. Constituents no longer ask for things, they demand them. Donald Pease. Nelson Polsby--Congress, acquire experience, after hired by government $2 billion a year. Break closed circle of persuasion by having compulsory rotation of offices--term limits. Staffers--average length of service 5 years for House/5.7 for Senate. Lobbyists--careerists. Cabinet 8 years. Senator Albert Gore--Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. Public television, paradigm of America's welfare state gone awry. Sharon Rockefeller. Bill Moyers. History of House of Representatives success rate for reelection of incumbents rarely fallen below 70%. Since 1932--no election in which fewer than 79% of House incumbents seeking reelection were successful. 2 elections below 80%. In 21 elections from 1950-1990--rate exceeded 90%. House 12 or more years consecutive service. Since 1790, 73% of incumbents reelected. Careerism. 20th century--steady ripening of careerism. Party voting no longer decisive, substantive knowledge of candidates records insufficient to furnish a substitute base. House franking privilege. 2nd half of 1991, 85 million pieces of mail. 1991 185 House members spent more on mailings than the average challenger to a House incumbent spent--$108,506 in 1990. Roll Call--one awaits the great awakening when Roll Call recognizes that most members are using the whole government mainly to win votes. Today's argument about the proper role of Congress is not just an echo of an earlier argument. Samuel Osgood, Massachusetts, Who shall rule? Framers of the Constitution strove to constitute a deliberative democracy--at core a Congress. Deliberative process involves identification/investigation of social needs, formulation of legislative remedies for recalcitrant problems. Until TR all presidents, with the exception of Andrew Johnson, communicated primarily with legislative branch rather than the people. Rhetorical presidency blurs--erases--distinction between campaigning and governing. TV has made the presidency, the constant. TV journalism, slave to inherently superficial news gathering instruments--cameras. Dignity is in the eye of the beholder, few who behold Congress today consider it dignified. Most Americans regard Congress with contempt. Term limitation--idea that representation not a function beyond capacities of any reasonably educated, attentive citizen. Boldness of American experiment in liberal democracy, Liberty is to be protected by institutional arrangements rather than by reliance on the nurturing of virtue, among the masses or in some saving elite. Cold War put 9 presidents--from Truman through Bush, front-and-center on stage of constant drama. Cold war and TV arrived simultaneously. Term limits for legislators would help limit imperial judiciary. Term limits--increase likelihood that Congress will reclaim role as center of American government--putting courts, presidency where they belong, toward the periphery of political life. No one can know that term limits will serve "the conservative agenda" whatever that might be. Balanced budget amendment is a dubious idea whose time, has come. For journalists/political class being in Washington is the point of life. House turnover--of 1,692 congressmen since 1955 when Democratic control of the House began, 35.7% of members, or 604 congressmen have served seven terms or more. One reason ex-legislators are hired by private interests today is to take advantage of their relationships with ex-colleagues who remain in Congress. Scoop Jackson--term limits will truncate some great careers. Americans must be less demanding of government. Americans must resolve to seek a more reserved/respectful relationship with First Branch of government, Congress.


Will, George F, “Restoration : Congress, term limits, and the recovery of deliberative democracy,” One Book. One Author. One Hour., accessed November 29, 2022,



Output Formats

Dublin Core


Restoration : Congress, term limits, and the recovery of deliberative democracy


Will, George F


Program air date: October 18, 1992.


The world's oldest democracy - ours - has an old tradition of skepticism about government. However, the degree of dismay about government today is perhaps unprecedented in our history. Americans are particularly convinced that Congress has become irresponsible, either unwilling or incapable of addressing the nation's problems - while it spends its time and our money on extending its members' careers. Many Americans have come to believe fundamental reform is needed, specifically limits on the number of terms legislators can serve. In Restoration, George Will makes a compelling case, drawn from our history and his close observance of Congress, that term limits are now necessary to revive the traditional values of classical republican government, to achieve the Founders' goal of deliberative democracy, and to restore Congress to competence and its rightful dignity as the First Branch of government. At stake, Will says, is the vitality of America's great promise self-government under representative institutions. At issue is the meaning of representation. The morality of representative government, Will argues, does not merely permit, it requires representatives to exercise independent judgment rather than merely execute instructions given by constituents. However, careerism, which is a consequence of the professionalization of politics, has made legislators servile and has made the national legislature incapable of rational, responsible behavior. Term limits would restore the constitutional space intended by the Founders, the healthy distance between the electors and the elected that is necessary for genuine deliberation about the public interest. Blending the political philosophy of the Founders with alarming facts about the behavior of legislative careerists, Restoration demonstrates how term limits, by altering the motives of legislators, can narrow the gap between the theory and the practice of American democracy.


"United States. Congress--Term of office."
"Term limits (Public office)--United States."
"Deliberative democracy--United States."


Brian Lamb Booknotes Collection
Gift of Brian Lamb, 2011.


Free Press
George Mason University. Libraries. Special Collections & Archives


This work may be protected by copyright laws and is provided for educational and research purposes only. Any infringing use may be subject to disciplinary action and/or civil or criminal liability as provided by law. If you believe that you are the rights-holder and object to Mason’s use of this image, please contact