Presidential term limits: necessary and right, or bad for democracy?
U.S. President Barack Obama reaches for a pen as he signs a bill in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, November 27, 2013. According to the White House, Obama signed three bills into law, S. 252, H.R. 1848, and H.R. 3204. REUTERS/Larry Downing (UNITED STATES – Tags: POLITICS)
Yahoo: The time has come to end presidential term limits, because continuing the restrictions on how long one can serve in the country’s highest office is bad for the United States, a university professor argued this week.
In an opinion piece published in the Washington Post, Jonathan Zimmerman, a history and education professor at New York University, says deciding whether a president deserves a third, fourth or more terms should be left to the American people, not the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, which placed a two-term limit on the position. As background, here’s an excerpt from the amendment, ratified in 1951:
“No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once.”
The amendment came into being a few years after Franklin Roosevelt was elected to the fourth of his White House terms. Known to Americans as the president during the final years of the Great Depression and most of World War II, Roosevelt, a Democrat, died in office before completing his last term. After the war, Republicans made a successful bid to install a two-term maximum for future presidents. But, according to Zimmerman, they limited not only the president’s time in office, but also “democracy itself.”
With President Obama’s job-approval numbers down sharply, Zimmerman indicates that the nation’s chief executive is perhaps being hampered by the fact that he’s in his final term, giving GOP opponents and even Democrats little incentive to support him on issues that might hurt their own re-election chances.
To illustrate his point, he uses two topics in the headlines: the implementation of the new health care law and the nuclear agreement with Iran.
“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.)? 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.”
Zimmerman adds, “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?”
On this last point, he invokes George Washington, the first president of the United States. Washington, he says, stepped down after his second term, but not because he was required by law to do so. Zimmerman says Washington didn’t support enforced term limits, citing one of his letters. “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. By leaving office, however, he did establish a precedent that would be followed for more than a century.
In his “Presidential Term Limits in American History: Power, Principles, and Politics,” Michael Korzi, a professor of political science at Towson University, cites the first president’s remark, stating that Washington departed voluntarily after his second term “more for personal reasons than for reasons of philosophy.”
Even so, the Founding Fathers had different opinions on whether to impose a mandate on term lengths, researchers indicate. (U.S. senators and representatives don’t have term limits.) Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the U.S., felt a maximum had merit. In “Jefferson Himself: The Personal Narrative of a Many-Sided American,” edited by Bernard Mayo, Jefferson referenced his dislike of the idea of an entrenched leader:
“That I should lay down my charge at a proper season is as much a duty as to have borne it faithfully … . These changes are necessary, too, for the security of republican government. If some period be not fixed, either by the Constitution or by practice, to the services of the First Magistrate, his office, though nominally elective, will in fact be for life; and that will soon degenerate into an inheritance.”
As for the present, Zimmerman’s idea isn’t new, and in fact, rumor-researching website Snopes.com notes multiple proposals in recent years to repeal the 22nd Amendment. Republicans and Democrats alike have raised the issue, but none of the attempts have gotten too far. .
Just a side note… Adolf Hitler was also elected to office and maneuvered himself into the position of supreme leader… dictator.
Remember… Power corrupts! Absolute power corrupts absolutely!!
Below are a few samples of the comments:
Daniel: …considering the amount of damage an individual can do in two terms, I can’t possibly see any benefit in allowing more…truth be known, Congress itself should be limited in the amount of time they can serve to keep the influence groups from growing to the point of total control of the Legislature…senior Senators and Representatives lord over the more junior members “encouraging” them to support key legislation…disrupts the power of the people themselves by steering votes the way they want them to go regardless of public opinion…
James: I just hope Professor Zimmerman reads some if not all of these comments. It is very clear to me that the American public is fed up with “career politicians” setting themselves up as the elites of our society. They establish rules for all of us and exempt themselves, reward themselves with pay raises while raising our taxes etc. We need to amend the Constitution so that politicians have some “personal skin in the game”. Term limits for Congress would only be the beginning. Maybe a more Parliamentary form of government would work better. When the majority of people are unhappy we should be able to have a vote of no confidence for all political leaders.
Alfredo: It is simple, we need term limits for the presidential term, and we also need term limits for congress, and the senate. We do not need life time politicians in this country. If politicians had term limits and had to get a job and live in with the rest of the population after their term is completed they may do a better job with the way they run the government, think more about what happens to the rest of the people because they know they will soon be back living and working in normal society.
Frank: Not only should there be term limits for presidents, there should be term limits for congress, and it all comes down to money. From the moment any of these people are elected, they immediately look to re-election and fund raising. They are then in a position of power to raise more money and thus “machines” are built to where a challenger is often so behind money wise it is difficult to de-throne an incumbent. If you really want Hope and Change, term limits guarantee both.
Becky: Before we change term limits, let’s work on their benefits. They should pay for their own life insurance or give all Americans free life insurance just like them. They should not receive lifetime pensions, let them open a 401k like the rest of us try to do and live off of that. There jobs should be treated like regular jobs not like they are some kind of super humans. There should also be a way for special elections in every state to get rid of the person if they are not doing the job they were sent there to do. We get fired if we do not do our jobs right why shouldn’t they.
William: Politics was NEVER meant to be a career. Politicians are supposed to serve their constituents, not the other way around. Another four years of our current president scares the heck out of me. The more we weaken our military, the greater the likelihood of some rogue nation becoming bold enough to attack. Heck, they don’t respect our president now, they think he’s a clown. Since when is the government supposed to be in the health care business? Why are they trying to run our lives? It’s just wrong, morally and fundamentally wrong.
Even sight: All political offices need term limits! This system is already too close to a dictatorship, and the tax paying American voter is not represented as our forefathers desired. When they were in office, it was an honor for them to shape this country for its countrymen. Not herd them like the cattle they have made us. In the 80’s and before, when a man voted, he voted for something he/she and their country was going to get. Now days we vote for who is going to take the least from us. I cannot protest more that the people of this once great country be relieved of any more of their rights to control the system with his/her vote, instead of being told what he/she can vote for. Today we are forced to vote for the lesser of evils, tomorrow the lesser is yesterdays greater. This is another push by the political system towards the development of the U.S.S.A! They have started the revolution our forefathers fought against. Do not allow this circle to come to full connection!
anonymous: Yes! Keep the term limits. That’s what it means to be a “Republic”. We’re ruled by laws and not the whims of popular democracy. A Republic is a far superior form of government than a straight democracy. A democracy is one step removed from communism. We enjoy democratic processes; however, we are a Republic. Laws are difficult to get passed. They actually take many years of bickering back and forth before they take shape. This results in good decisions. This country emphasizes state control and not federal. That is why the legislative branch should carry far more weight than the executive branch. The federal branch should only be interested in our protection as a country and our interests in foreign affairs.
Deonia: He, in my opinion, will fight to remain President as long as he lives. He intends to be a dictator and will probably be able to do it since almost half of this country still thinks he’s the best thing to come down the pike since sliced bread. But as soon as he gains control that no one will be able to break he’ll stop all the freebies and those receiving them will see how evil this JUDAS GOAT really is!!
Ask Marion: Years ago while in college I thought perhaps we should elect our (U.S.) President for one 6-year-term, giving them enough time to get things done without the distraction of an election in the middle of their two 4-year-terms that in the end costs taxpayers millions in addition to the sitting president focusing on a campaign rather than running the country. I am again starting to think that might not be such a bad idea, but perhaps the terms for impeachment have to be amended as well, allowing both the House and the Senate equal power in that matter?!? Term limits for Congress and the Supreme Court should definitely be on the table as well!! And after this president, the thought of lifting term limits is beyond frightening.
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