The framers intended our system of government to have three separate, but equal branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. In the last 75 years, the federal government ( the executive) has greatly expanded in both size and scope, and now intrudes daily into the life of every American.
In addition we have seen how an out-of control president can willfully ignore, if not flout, the Constitutional limits of his office. And when he does so, the Congress is unwilling and /or unable to stop his actions. The courts are supposedly the final line of defense, but as they have become increasingly politicized, they cannot be expected to fulfill their Constitutional mandate; and even when they finally do act, the process takes years, and the damage to the nation has already been done, and the bell cannot be unrung.
In recent years, much of the efforts to control the federal government have centered on the idea of term limits for Congress. The GOP platform in 1994 included a proposal for term limits. It failed to get the needed number of votes required for a Constitutional amendment..indeed, it barely passed.
Presently, 36 states have term limits on their governors, and 15 have term limits for their state legislators. Eight states in fact had earlier approved term limits for their congressional delegations but in 1995, the Supreme Court ruled ( 5-4, BTW…that politicized court again) that states cannot impose term limits on senators or representatives.
If we go back to the framers, we see that the question of term limits for the President was debated extensively at the Constitutional Convention, but ultimately was left unrestricted. This was probably one of the few mistakes the founding fathers made. George Washington, the first president, retired after two terms, and for 150 years the precedent that he thus established was honored by all. Until, that is, FDR broke the compact.
In 1946, the first election after FDR’s death, Republicans made the FDR’s four terms ( and the broken tradition) a campaign issue, and it played a big part in the GOP gaining 55 seats in the House, and 12 seats in the Senate.
The new House acted immediately after taking office, and legislation was introduced that ultimately resulted in the 22nd amendment, limiting future president to two elected terms.
Given that we have seen time and time again, that Representatives originally elected in part by promising to limit their service, have reneged on their pledges; it is highly unlikely that we will ever see a term limits amendment pass the Congress. (A Constitutional convention called by the several states is a different matter).
However, an amendment limiting the president to one term would have a better chance of passing Congress, as both parties would see advantages ,and drawbacks, to the proposal.
Some have suggested one six year term, but that would actually make the problem worse. The first thing a newly elected president does is to begin planning his re-election. All his actions in the first term are planned with one common denominator: how will it impact the next election. It is in the second term, that the president…not encumbered with having to face the voters again, begins working on his legacy issues.
Giving a president six years in office…and without never having to face the consequences of his actions, is more dangerous than what we have at present.
The greatest objection to limiting a president to one term comes from those who would say that a president deserves the chance to run on his record, and make his case to the voters. If they want more of the same, they should be allowed to choose it.
If we were to accept that argument, then why should we keep the two-term limit?
Actually, if a president is doing a good job for the nation, then those in his party who wish to succeed him will run on a platform of continuing those policies. The voters can thus choose the policies they approve, and not necessarily the individual.
There is another, and somewhat more low-key, but valid reason, to support a one-term limit. Today’s technology gives the incumbent a tremendous built in advantage, along with a considerable dollar advantage. In the last 18 months of the first term, the entire White House operation, nay, the entire resources of the executive branch.. is a de facto political shop, with the sole objective of re-electing the President. Air Force One is a campaign plane. This will only get worse in coming years. It needs to end, now.
Congress would, I believe, likely pass a one-term amendment. The idea is generally popular with voters, and advantages and disadvantages would affect both parties equally.
There is one more reason why I think it would make it through Congress:
I suspect that every governor, every senator, and most every representative who aspires to be a governor or senator someday, believes, in his or her heart, that they would make a great President.
Given that our nation has re-elected 4 of the last 5 presidents to a second term (and the one exception Bush 41, had to deal with the problems of Perot’s candidacy) it is more than likely that the pattern will hold in the future. Unless subsequent presidents royally screw it up in their first term, the power of incumbency is very hard to overcome.
Thus, any viable candidates of one party, when that party elects a new president, are pretty much written off as ever having a chance at the Oval office. It’s hard to stay relevant for 8 years, and given that the voters have tended to alternate parties when they elect a president..well your use-by date has come and gone. Equally so for anyone in the losing party..with the president likely to hold office for two terms, you probably can’t win four years hence, and in eight years, it’s time for new faces.
But, if we have in effect an open election every four years, well…that’s a whole new ball game. Everyone now has a chance…at least, a far better chance than before, and since politicians will ALWAYS vote in their self-interest, Congress would most likely support an amendment to limit the president to one four year term.
The real advantage for the country if that if a newly elected president tries to implement unpopular and/or unconstitutional policies, he or she is likely to face strong opposition from within his own party. You can’t run for president having voted for something that doesn’t work. It would be a great check on the abuses of executive power.
Note: Just to clarify…. An individual, presumably a vice-president, who succeeded to the presidency because the office became vacant, would still be eligible to run for one four year term.