I am staunch opponent of term limitations for any elected office. That is why I feel it is high time to repeal or amend the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution so that a sitting president always has the option to run for re-election.
Let’s put aside all partisan considerations. Term limits, while they sound good, take the power of the ballot box out of the hands of Americans. Why should we give up our right to elect who we want for president regardless of how many terms they serve?
Second, shouldn’t we have the best person in the White House? Our nation was forced to retire Bill Clinton, a Rhodes Scholar, who left office with a budget surplus and a good economy. George W. Bush got elected and his bad decisions cost our nation trillions of dollars.
There are important practical considerations too. There is a steep learning curve for any newly elected president. More mistakes are made in the beginning of a new administration. For example, Kennedy saw the Bay of Pigs, a covert operation hatched during the last years of the Eisenhower administration, nearly ruin his presidency. Clinton, for all his successes, had a horrible first two years and the Democrats lost the House in the 1994 mid-term elections.
Moreover, four year terms leaves hardly any time to establish a working relationship with Congress. The entire House and a third of the Senate is up for re-election every two years. The election cycles cause political tension regardless of who is president. After a successful re-election bid, lame duck status kicks in about 100 days after the inauguration. Congress can essentially ignore the chief executive unless he or she vetoes legislation left and right. We are witnessing that right now in the extreme.
Last, the considerations of the late 1940’s that led to the 22nd amendment never existed in the first place. The fear of an imperial presidency was a total political fabrication. Thomas Dewey, the governor of New York who ran against Harry Truman and lost, called Roosevelt’s “four terms or 16 years the most dangerous threat to our freedom ever proposed.”
The truth is FDR’s stranglehold on the White House was an anomaly propelled largely by the Great Depression and World War II. Until that time, no president had served longer than two terms, even in the case of an assassination when a Vice President took over during a first term. Harry Truman, FDR’s fourth vice president and the only sitting president not covered by the amendment, withdrew from the 1952 election after he lost the New Hampshire primary. The voters were the final arbiter.
If the fear of an imperial president was so great, why did it take the Congress until March 1947 (almost three years after Roosevelt died) to pass an amendment to the constitution? The requisite number of states did not ratify the amendment until February 1951.
The 22nd amendment did create a power imbalance between the White House and Congress that grows with each decade in favor of the legislative branch. With the exception of foreign policy and war powers, Capitol Hill holds all the cards. May be allowing a president to serve more than two terms can help reverse this trend.
Moreover, presidential term limits have created an environment where the next run for the White House is starting earlier and earlier. Candidates from both parties are already gearing up to run for president in 2016 and the current president was sworn in a mere five months ago? That is just wrong.
A president, at the very least, should be allowed to sit out four years and then run again if he or she decides to take that course. Right now that is not an option. Nor has the 12th amendment (the one that lists qualifications for the presidency) ever been tested to see if an ex-president can serve as a vice president.
The fact of the matter is the demands of the job have always been so great that it is unlikely any president may choose to serve longer than two terms. But shouldn’t the option be there? World events still suggest that our nation needs to retain the option to keep a president in office for as long as they want to serve and earn the republic’s support every four years. Plus when world events happen faster, and in ways more interconnected than ever, the need for experience in the White House is paramount.
Thank god that we do not have to wonder what might have transpired if FDR was not president during the Great Depression and World War II. Or more recently, we surely must ponder what could have been if Bill Clinton were allowed to run for re-election in 2000. I think of that one every time I hear Clinton speak.