Friday, January 21, 2005

Bush Takes Oath...Here Are Consequences, Unintended and Otherwise

One of the unintended consequences of the 22nd. amendment to the Constitution, passed in 1951 and limiting Presidents to being elected to just two terms or serving a total of ten years (should they be elevated to the presidency from the vice presidency), is that one day after his Inauguration to a second term, George W. Bush is a lame-duck.

From this point forward, the President's vaunted "capital," a term he used repeatedly in his news conference on the day after the November election, begins to diminish. Some would argue that, like a life bar in a computer game, the depletion of the President's capital began on November 3.

A second-term President, particularly one in the second two-year period of that term, which President Bush should enter after the 2006 mid-term elections, can be increasingly ignored by the Congress and others. Aware that time is running down for the Chief Executive, his fellow partisans and his opponents have less reason to fear his wrath and so, can ignore him with greater impunity.

This is why second-term Presidents often find their domestic agendas thwarted and, looking for the path of least resistance, they frequently seek and attain great success in foreign affairs, where they have more latitude.

The irony, of course, is that presidential term limits were pushed through a Republican Congress in the early-1950s as a reaction to Franklin Roosevelt's string of wins in four consecutive presidential races between 1932 and 1944. It's ironic because in 1952, the Republicans elected the wildly popular Dwight Eisenhower, who could have easily been elected to a third term in 1960, but couldn't do so because of the 22nd. Amendment. Many think that Republican Ronald Reagan could have also been elected to a third term in 1988.

Term limits are generally a horrible idea.

For one thing, they ignore that term limits were built into our system of government from the beginning. It's accomplished through a little thing called elections.

Here in Ohio, we have term limits for statewide offices as well as for members of the General Assembly, our state's legislature. Term limits, of course, are designed to bring fresh blood into political office. What has happened here instead, is a big game of musical chairs, with the parties recycling known names through various elective offices and a much higher percentage of office holders than was previously the case establishing incumbency by being appointed to their jobs.

Term limits also deny citizens the service and expertise of elective officials who have learned the ropes. Don't underestimate the importance of this. When elective officials are term-limited, they're less able to overcome the defenses of those government bureaucracies interested in concealing inefficiencies, selfishly-hoarded turf, or outright dishonesty. Term limits make some agencies and departments the permanent government, rolling along like the megalomaniac Master Control Program in the movie, Tron, insusceptible to the command and oversight elective officials are supposed to exercise over them.

Be that as it may, George W. Bush has entered a second term with a definite end date. No matter what, his presidency will end, at the latest, on January 20, 2009.

The consequence of that is that right now, any number of Republicans and Democrats have begun the presidential campaign of 2008...and poor Condi Rice hasn't even started her new gig at the State Department yet.

Whoever gets elected in 2008 should remember the lesson of the lame duck second-term President and get as much accomplished in their first term as possible.

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