So in the past week a piece of legislation has popped up that has been grabbed by the lefty blogs with shock and anger. This is a pitch for a new amendment that overturns an old amendment – the 22nd.
The 22nd is the one that limits presidents to two terms. It got its start in 1947, in the wake of FDR’s death and officially joined the constitution in 1951. By overturning it, progressives fear, we open the door to “president for life”, and point to it as an indication of the conservative's desire to create our own King George. Never mind that four of the bill’s five sponsors are Democrats (Of course, the fifth sponsor is Sesenbrenner of Wisconsin, the sage head that turned off the microphones in a congressional hearing so he would not have to listen to people pointing out that the PATRIOT act was being abused).
But despite the concerns of the progressives and the presence of Sesenbrenner I am with the repealers on this. Supporters of the “In Party” have to deal with the fact that their guy cannot run again, regardless of their success, and therefore becomes a lame duck immediately upon re-election. The supporters of the “Outs” rightly point out that re-elected administration is EVEN LESS accountable in its second term now, since it doesn’t have to worry about reelection.
Actually, its even more frustrating that this. For the Ins, their operation becomes split between those who are going to see the lame duck through and then retire themselves, and those who want to keep going with whatever the next administration is. Instead of an imperial presidency, it’s a continual succession argument.
For the Outs it is little better, since there is no way to bring to bear the “will of the people” (or even the “will of the people who support the outs”) to bear. The only way to rein in a president is through Impeachment, which we think of as a “nuclear option” but as the most recent one pointed out, was little more than a “Vote of No Confidence”. Both Nixon's proposed impeachment (he resigned before things got going) and Clinton's full-blown case of impeachment fever happened in their second terms, when they supposedly had "nothing to lose". And today impeachment talk is in the air for a 2nd term president, this time from the disappointed Right Wing of the Ins party, angry at a deeply unpopular president. Would the various administrations have walked more carefully, and been more even-handed, had it been thinking of a strategy that lasted more than four years?
One of the great things about the Constitution is not only that we can patch it over time, we can change it again when the patch doesn’t work. Prohibition came into being to address basic problems in the country, yet it soon became obvious that the cure was worse than the disease, and Repeal, in the form of another amendment, followed. So too we can make our administration more responsible (or even force it to look more responsible) by getting rid of this lodestone. It was put into place by Outs (Republicans) who had been confronted by four terms (a lifetime) under the Ins (FDR Democrats) to "bring balance to the Force". And with the exception of Bill Clinton, its been the Republicans who have been nailed on the "no third term" law, hoisting themselves by their own political petard. The 22nd Amendment was a bad idea then, and it remains a bad idea now, regardless of who is in office.
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