We’ve heard internet buzz about it and didn’t pay too much attention to it. However, we can now declare the fight to repeal the presidential two-term limit amendment to have officially begun.
Here’s the opening salvo from Jonathan Zimmerman writing in the Washington Post, "End Presidential Term Limits":
In 1947, Sen. Harley Kilgore (D-W.Va.) condemned a proposed constitutional amendment that would restrict presidents to two terms. “The executive’s effectiveness will be seriously impaired,” Kilgore argued on the Senate floor, “ as no one will obey and respect him if he knows that the executive cannot run again.”
I’ve been thinking about Kilgore’s comments as I watch President Obama, whose approval rating has dipped to 37 percent in CBS News polling — the lowest ever for him — during the troubled rollout of his health-care reform. Many of Obama’s fellow Democrats have distanced themselves from the reform and from the president. Even former president Bill Clinton has said that Americans should be allowed to keep the health insurance they have.
Or consider the reaction to the Iran nuclear deal. Regardless of his political approval ratings, Obama could expect Republican senators such as Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and John McCain (Ariz.) to attack the agreement. But if Obama could run again, would he be facing such fervent objections from Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.)?
This is mystifying. There is a built-in assumption for Zimmerman, we suppose, that the Affordable Care Act is good legislation and that this hopelessly flawed law would be viewed more favorably if President Obama had more time in office.
And there are many reasons to be skeptical of the Iran nuke deal: it is for only 6 months at which time everything goes back to what it was before the deal, they're not actually turning over any uranium, we don’t actually dismantle any of the centrifuges critical to their nuclear program and … oh, it’s a deal we are making with people we know won’t honor the deal.
So, the reason we should keep our current President is so that he can keep passing crappy legislation and keep making bad deals with bad actors. Is that the big idea?
Back to the article:
Probably not. Democratic lawmakers would worry about provoking the wrath of a president who could be reelected. Thanks to term limits, though, they’ve got little to fear.
Nor does Obama have to fear the voters, which might be the scariest problem of all. If he chooses, he could simply ignore their will. And if the people wanted him to serve another term, why shouldn’t they be allowed to award him one?
That was the argument of our first president, who is often held up as the father of term limits. In fact, George Washington opposed them. “I can see no propriety in precluding ourselves from the service of any man who, in some great emergency, shall be deemed universally most capable of serving the public,” Washington wrote in a much-quoted letter to the Marquis de Lafayette.
Washington stepped down after two terms, establishing a pattern that would stand for more than a century. But he made clear that he was doing so because the young republic was on solid footing, not because his service should be limited in any way.
We’re not sure if the term “career politician” existed back in those days. We’ve no doubt that Washington harbored these more purer democracy sentiments but we are also of no doubt that the idea of serving in public service at the federal level was not yet the entrenched teet-sucking personal enrichment program that it is now. Can we be sure Washington would hold these views were he to see today’s current condition?
Unfortunately, for Zimmerman, we do not live in a democracy. We live in a constitutional republic that has built-in mechanisms that prevent rule by simple majority (Senate Democrats and our President are currently having difficulties with that concept). We also have mechanisms by which those mechanisms can be change. If Presidential term limits can be put in place via the amendment process, they can, in turn, be overturned by the same process.
And call us skeptical, we doubt Zimmerman would have had the courage of his convictions to pen this column back in, say, 1986 or, dare say, 2006. We don't believe it to be mere coincidence that this sudden interest in direct democracy comes at a time of a flailing second-term president who can't gain any legislative traction with his agenda.
As it stands, we favor mightily presidential term limits. Again, we are not a democracy and as a republic we have safeguards to protect ourselves from ourselves. Besides, we can scarcely think of what good can come from a President being in office for 12, 16 … however many years. The “message” gets old, the old man gets sloppy and too content and a once-vibrant republic becomes sclerotic.
It’s bad enough Capitol Hill is chock-full of career company men and woman, we don’t need the Oval Office to turn into a vehicle for Chavista-like presidents-for-life.
Especially in this age of low-information voters and hopeless media bias, we’re not about to give democracy that chance.
However, we encourage Mr. Zimmerman to enthusiastically pursue changes to these republic safeguards should he feel so compelled to do so. The means are certainly at his disposal.