US Politics

Four Year Terms for Congress?

As I was looking this evening for a speech supporting the Vietnam War to accompany my class’s reading of The Things They Carried, I came across something I hadn’t heard before: in 1966, Lyndon Baines Johnson proposed making the terms for members of Congress last four years.  In his State of the Union address, Johnson made the case:

The present 2-year term requires most Members of Congress to divert enormous energies to an almost constant process of campaigning — depriving this Nation of the fullest measure of both their skill and their wisdom. Today, too, the work of government is far more complex than in our early years, requiring more time to learn and more time to master the technical tasks of legislating. And a longer term will serve to attract more men of the highest quality to political life. The Nation, the principle of democracy, and, I think, each congressional district, will all be better served by a 4-year term for Members of the House. And I urge your swift action.

Loathe as I would be to suggest this idea now that Ryan Zinke represents Montana in Washington, Johnson’s proposal, despite its sexist language, makes even more sense today than it did in the 1960s. Our newest Congressman started a PAC before he won his election and is already on the conservative talk show circuit, no doubt hoping to raise his profile for wealthy donors.

Four-year terms might not address the abuses of campaign finance and they might not eliminate the role of money in our elections, but they might just give candidates enough time in office to cast votes that are about something other than winning an election a few months down the road.

In the end, I settled on Richard Nixon’s Silent Majority speech for my class, an excellent contrast with the Martin Luther King Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence speech we have been studying.


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  • Naive in the extreme, you are. If it were only money that controlled them once elected, but far from it. Unless they are like a pony that is already broken before riding, they don’t stand a chance of nomination, much less election. Once in office the levers over them include bribes, sexy easy interns, call girls, easy money, primary opponents, and anything in their past, including sheep dipping, that can be used against them.

    Curious about your class. You assign reading? Does it ever occur to you to let a kid go whichever way his own brain takes him, or does that introduce indepdentdent thought? Good grief, looking for the “other side” of an issue as complex as the Vietnam quagmire, a speech no less, as if a kid could not do that on his own. If I were “teaching” the Vietnam War, I’d open it up, encourage the kids to get the Vietnamese side, Chinese, American, Thai, Laotian and Cambodian to boot. I’d set them free.

    School is so confining in thought and stifling of creativity. And here, a man who thinks that two sides of an extremely complex multifaceted invasion of a foreign continent can be summarized in a book, and a speech. A speech! as if speeches had content!

    • “Blinded” in case you hadn’t noticed – in any debate – class or actual – the terms of the thing are usually rather narrowly defined. Not go any which way. The Author teaches debate classes, not finding JohnnySusie or whatever. From what I’ve seen, most kids nowdays hardly know that the Vietnam War even happened at all, let alone care about it. Maybe these two speeches are just a jumping off place to start a discussion. And I cannot think of a better place than these two “speakers” to begin that exploration. Wish I was in the class!

      A Vietnam era vet.

    • No, you’re right. I should really rethink my pedagogical approach. Students are never motivated to do their own reading and thought in classes where they confronted with different opinions curated by the teacher.

      Thank you. I look forward to implementing tomorrow’s lesson, called “Google: Use It.”

      Nit. Wit.

    • And before you start giving instruction about how to teach, you may want to look into your reading skills. Although you use quotation marks around the phrase “other side” as if I used that phrase, I didn’t. Nice try, though. I’m proud of your efforts, despite your demonstrated limitations as a reader and thinker.

      I believe in you. Some day, you’ll be good at this.

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Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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