Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Just go to the house

This is an open letter to the 12 Knox County Commissioners who, by a state supreme court decision upholding a 1994 vote for term limits that never should have taken this long to enforce, are now term limited out of office: Head on home, folks. Turn out the lights, the party's over.

Let's call a spade a spade. You're gone. Done. There is no loophole. There is no confusion. Go home. Retire, like Cincinnatus, back to your farm and your plow. Thanks for the memories. It's been fun.

Panic spread through the City County Building faster than the Bubonic Plague last week following the court's decision to uphold term limits on county commissioners, which Knox County voters passed 12 years ago by an overwhelming majority. Chicken Little had nothing on those who ran around last week saying the sky was falling. It would be funny if it weren't so sad.

Consider this history lesson for a few minutes:

In 1904, Theodore Roosevelt was arguably the most popular American on the planet. His first term had been, by nearly any measure, a success. He crushed the Democratic nominee for president, Alton Parker, that fall, winning 33 of 45 states.

"It is all colossal," an observer wrote at the time.

TR was at the peak of his power. And he feasibly had two more terms to go. After having assumed the presidency in 1901 following William McKinley's assassination, TR had not technically served a full term. There was, incidentally, not yet a Twenty-second Amendment. Eight more years was his for the asking.

But Roosevelt didn't deal in technicalities. Nope, this Bull Moose didn't mess around. He thought about George Washington's two-term example. And he took the high road.

"On the fourth of March next I shall have served three and a half years, and this three and a half years constitutes my first term," Roosevelt said on election night. "The wise custom which limits the President to two terms regards the substance and not the form. Under no circumstances will I be a candidate for or accept another nomination."

Nobody would have argued much if he had changed his mind in 1908. "Election night euphoria," they would have said. "Just Teddy being Teddy."

But he kept his word. He groomed William Howard Taft to be his progressive successor. Made plans to take a year-long safari to stay out of Taft's way. Did his job, sent the Great White Fleet on one glorious trip around the world, and went back to his home at Oyster Bay.

And though he loved the presidency more than any of his predecessors, TR gave it all up. He walked away -- voluntarily and on his own.

He was "happy at the large things he had managed to achieve," historian Edmund Morris wrote, "... contented with myriad smaller triumphs, proud of his appointees, passionate about his country... happy, above all, having kept his promise not to hold on too long to power."

Roosevelt was 51 in 1909. He was still full of vigor, not yet plagued by the illnesses that would eventually kill him. His popularity was at an all-time high. He had more to give. But TR kept his word and went home.

But, wait, you say, Roosevelt came back and ran again --- even started his own party! Yes, he did. But only after sitting out for four years and looking on in dismay while Taft and conservative Republicans destroyed his big stick progressivism.

Step up and be a hero. Do the right thing, say the will of the voters must be upheld and go on home.

It ain't the end of the world, guys. Some of you are bright. Many of you have good jobs to occupy your time.

If you still want to serve your community, just go do it. Pick up trash on Saturday mornings. Find a charity. Build Habitat for Humanity houses with Jimmy Carter. If you feel like you have more to give, come back in four years and let the voters decide.

But, for now, just go to the house.


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