Chip Shots by Chip Griffin

The Case for a One Term Presidency

The premise of this blog is to share disruptive ideas and opinions. Sometimes they can be controversial, as well, especially on the rare occasions that I choose to tackle things like politics or religion. So be it.

In the United States, we had a tradition of presidents serving no more than two terms starting with George Washington and ending with Franklin Roosevelt. FDR’s decision to continue running for re-election after two terms led to the passage of a constitutional amendment that turned that tradition into a rule.

Most presidents have chosen to seek a second term. Indeed, only a small handful chose not to seek a second full term. LBJ’s famous “I shall not seek” speech was given after the 1968 presidential primary campaign was already underway, thus making it less than truly voluntary. The last president who proactively chose not to seek re-election was Calvin Coolidge in 1928.

In a 2005 article at the start of President George W. Bush’s second term, Susan Page of USA Today wrote:

Of the 15 previous presidents who have been elected and then re-elected, not one had a more successful second term than his first, according to presidential historian Robert Dallek. For seven, the second term was catastrophic: Felled by assassination or illness, or mired in corruption and controversy.

Given this track record, perhaps we should look to start a new tradition in America: the one-term president. Rather than treating that term as a derisive one as it is now (most use the term to dismiss a politician they dislike, “Oh, we was a one-term guy”), we should view those who voluntarily serve one term as those who go to Washington to make a difference and then move on.

The end of one presidential election inevitably starts the speculation for the next campaign. Who will challenge the incumbent? Presidents cannot help but factor in politics into their policy decisions. Since modern presidents who have failed to achieve a second term have all faced primary challenges, new presidents must typically cater to their party’s base to retain office.

We already have one branch of government inextricably tied to daily political considerations. Congress was designed to be responsive to the people, especially in the House of Representatives, and a good case can be made that it should be — despite the tumultuous results that often ensue.

We have another branch of government that faces comparatively little daily political considerations. The judiciary, with its life terms, enjoys a fair amount of insulation. Though this sometimes leads to judges veering substantially from the views they expressed prior to nomination and confirmation, this, too, is probably a good thing.

As a conservative, I’m not necessarily opposed to gridlock. Indeed, a “do nothing Congress” doesn’t sound that bad to me — most of the time. After all, if those folks aren’t enacting new laws, it’s hard for them to make things worse.

At the same time, there are things that need to be done. The economic and fiscal crisis facing the United States represents a real threat. The failure of our elected leaders to do anything other than kick the can down the road exposes all of us to the potential of a darker future.

As a partisan myself, I would prefer to see conservative policies adopted. But even more important is that we come up with a clear and convincing plan to get our financial house in order as a nation.

That’s where a one-term president could help. Second term presidents often lack the enthusiasm and vigor of a newcomer, despite the fact that they have become unshackled from the concerns of base politics. The media and pundits dismiss them as “lame ducks.” That’s much harder to do with a freshly elected president.

Although I have no reason to believe it will happen, I would love to see Mitt Romney announce in his convention speech that he will seek just one term as president. It would send a powerful message that the presidency is about leading and solving problems, not holding the ultimate seat of power in the world at all costs.


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