Thursday, January 05, 2006

Bush '08

The New York Times runs a contrarian op-ed today calling on lawmakers to repeal the 22nd Amendment, which limits presidents to two terms. I’ve believed the amendment was a bad idea ever since I was in college and I heard a professor argue that the amendment renders a president a lame duck the moment his second term begins. That may please you if happen to dislike whoever currently is in the Oval Office—and Lord knows, I do—but it doesn’t make for good governance:

A second-term president will, in effect, automatically be fired within four years. Inevitably his influence over Congress, and even his authority over the sprawling executive branch, weaken. His party leadership frays as presidential hopefuls carve out their own constituencies for the next election. Whether the president is trying to tamp down scandal or push legislation, he loses his ability to set the agenda.

The authors note that the 22nd Amendment was a way for the Republicans who controlled Congress when it was approved to repudiate the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt, the only president to serve more than two terms. And while George Washington may have established a precedent by serving only two terms, that was not the intention of the Founding Fathers:

Washington's close confidant Alexander Hamilton also had firmly opposed presidential term limits. In Federalist No. 72, Hamilton argued that term limits for the chief executive would diminish inducements to good behavior, discourage presidents from undertaking bold new projects, deny the nation the advantage of his experience and threaten political stability. For his part, Washington added that term limits would exclude from the presidency a man whose leadership might be essential in a time of emergency.

Should presidents - whether George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton - be denied the opportunity to serve their country and carry through their programs? Should they be allowed to govern without any accountability to voters? Should voters be denied two supreme powers - the right to give popular presidents more terms in office and to repudiate a failed president at the polls?

Personally, I can’t imagine many presidents, with a few notable exceptions like Clinton, would want to serve more than two terms, assuming they could even win re-election. (Oh, sure, they might intend to serve three or even four terms, but many would think differently as year eight approached.) The modern presidency is a demanding job—President Bush’s generous vacations notwithstanding—and one that is hard to acquire much before one reaches their mid-50s. But I’m not sure much is to be gained by denying presidents the opportunity—and I say this as someone who has become alarmed at the growth of executive power typified by our current president.

One caveat: I do not agree that allowing presidents three or more terms would necessarily make them more accountable. It would only do so if they wanted to run for more than two terms. And as an aside, I take issue with the examples of second-term woes the authors cite in their opening. Nixon was a venal man whose dirty tricks began during his first term, and Clinton’s incurable skirt-chasing had nothing to do with being term-limited. (Same with Reagan's desire to circumvent the Congressional prohibition against funding the Contras.) Indeed, their political opponents likely would have attacked them with even more zeal had they been able to run for a third term.


Blogger djhlights said...

I tend to agree with the argument that the 22nd Amendment should be repealed, but I thank the lord though that the current occupant has to leave in 3 years though.

Still historically, fatigue for a president and his policies does set in after 8 years in charge. I feel it's the main reason that besides George HW Bush the last sitting VP to run for the big job and win was Martin Van Buren?

9:42 PM

Blogger Michael Seth said...

Without a doubt W. needs another four years, worthy or not, in order to solidify his proper place in history. Frankly, its a shame that the President doenst have the power to repeal ammendments anyways. There is simply no limit to what the Democrats will twists around to their own advantage. What a sad bunch of opportunists, indeed.

I really hope that something big happens just before the next election so that we can still have George Bush as a president.

God Bless George W. Bush, Now and Forever.

10:10 AM


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