Term limits

May 032008

The usual course of human events is for politicians to become corrupted by power. That means the longer they are in office, the more authoritarian and (these days) the more leftwing they become. Look what’s happening in California, for example.

The rare exceptions seem to come about during extended periods out of power. George McGovern’s journey from leftwingism to liberalism is an example.

So what happens to one of these politician once he’s back in office? In today’s WSJ, Mary Anastasia O’Grady recounts her interview with Peru’s President Alan Garcia. After 16 years out of power, he is returning to the presidency as a free-market libertarian. Or at least he is talking like one. O’Grady and the people of Peru are waiting to see if his deeds will match his new words, but she gives evidence that “he firmly graps the principles behind the arguments he now professes to believe.”

That he can articulate his principles is a good sign. He talks in favor of “individualization of decisions” and the decentralizing of economic activity. Peru has a large underground economy. Instead of the usual proposals to crack down, Garcia wants to lower the cost of being in the formal economy. That probably means less of the usual type of government regulation designed to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. He says, “Price controls are my enemy.”

It is indeed a bright spot in a world that has been tending more authoritarian the last several years. But there will be enormous temptations to backslide. Perhaps we can be sure his new politics are for real when we hear that the likes of Clinton and Obama are trying to keep Peru down like they’re now doing to Colombia.

But you never get that kind of rhetoric out of Hugo Chavez or Ted Kennedy, so there has to be something to it. Words do mean something.

And perhaps even Ted Kennedy might have become more liberal if term limits had kept him out of public office for a while.