Monday, November 15, 2004

Third Term

While we are likely to hear many arguments from the right about why we should elect George W. Bush to a third term as President of the United States, I thought I would jump in early with an argument from the democratic side of the aisle on why we should modify the Constitution to allow him to run a third time. Don't think it is reasonable to talk about changing the US Constitution to allow a person to run for President? Tell Governer Arnold...

The partisan Fox News ran a survey this past summer that declares "Most Oppose Allowing President Third Term." The survey spoke of opposition to Clinton being allowed to run against Bush and was largely the kind of negative hit piece on liberal political candidates that we have come to love Fox News for... But there it is, the idea of a 3rd term for a President being floated publically.

And the Republican arguments for electing Bush to a third term will come, at least from the extreme right. We will hear that we should "stick with our wartime president" and that we need to keep up the fight on terrorism, and that his reforms of the tax code and social security are not yet complete...

But here is an argument for the left to consider. The problem with second terms is that the President is now a lame duck. He no longer need consider public opinion as he will not face the voters in 2008. So when will he feel the need to compromise? Or even sound like he is reaching out to all of the voters?

If we allow Bush to run for a third term in office, on the other hand, he will have a motivation to appear in front of voters, talk to reporters, provide some transparency on advisory panels for proposed energy or environmental bills... in short have some measure of accountability to the American people.

Of course, if re-elected, the same argument might be made again -- allow Bush to run for a fourth term in office... Given the possibility of President Bush for life perhaps we should be supporting a constitutional change to allow Schwarzenegger to run for President in '08 instead...

1 comment:

dan said...

As you're probably aware, the idea of amending the amendment (the 22nd) that limits presidents to two terms was floated in the 1980s; the discussion, and a House resolution proposing an amendmennt, were prompted by Reagan's personal popularity and the belief he'd be elected to a third term if he could run. The idea came into play again with Clinton; maybe it'll be suggested every time a president wins a second term. For a variety of reasons -- mainly the horror so many will feel at the prospect of this Bush staying in office one second beyond noon EST Jan. 20, 2009 -- the amendment will go nowhere.

The usual counter-argument to the one you cite about the tendency of a lame duck president to ignore public opinion in pursuing his agenda is this: That the chief executive, no longer having to worry about re-election himself, will actually launch initiatives that rise above partisan considerations to enhance his legacy; in the past the assumption has somehow been that a second-term president could defy all the usual jockeying for short-term position to do things of lasting value for the whole country. Reagan's administration is a great example -- he put "tax reform" right at the top of his agenda and got it pushed through Congress (of course, it was anything but "the second American Revolution" he promised, but that's another story). On the other side of the ledger, Clinton's second-term legacy is having survived impeachment. Maybe that's why people talked about letting him run a third time -- so he could have a real second term. (There's a good review of the two-term amednment issue here:

Anyway, Bush has announced what some of his legacy goals are. "Fixing" Social Security, for one thing (I think he's going to fix it like he just fixed Iraq). But I think it's obvious where your "unaccountable lame duck" argument breaks down: As a minority president -- and not just a minority president, one who failed to win the popular vote -- this guy pursued a nakedly radical agenda; the real curse of 9/11, beyond the human tragedy, was that it gave him a sort of practical mandate that the electorate itself had not, so that political restraints that might have made it difficult to do something like launch a war were removed. Now that Bush and his people have what they call a mandate -- 51 out of 100 people who voted -- he's talking openly about spending the "political capital" he won. It doesn't matter how many terms you give these people, they feel like they're history's masters (see Ron Suskind's long feature, entitled "Without a Doubt," that ran in The New York Times Magazine last month), and they've shown themselves to be contemptuous of the sort of modest, moderate reasoning that would suggest they consider governing with their opponents' interests as part of the equation.

This group, in fact, is the best argument our history has provided for another alternative that's been suggested for presidential tenures: limiting the chief executive to a single six-year term. If we lived there, we'd be home in two years (or facing the prospect of President Jeb Bush).