I’ll say this for Congressman Jose Serrano (D-NY) — he introduced a bill to repeal the Twenty-Second Amendment in 2005, just after George W. Bush was re-elected. So he is being evenhanded to introduce it again now that a member of his party is about to take the White House. He seems to genuinely think that the limitation of Presidents to two terms is a bad idea and that the people should be able to pick the President they want.
But it seems to me that right about year six is when most two-term Presidents start to run in to trouble. Recall:
- George W. Bush was elected in 2000; his sixth year was 2006. In 2006, Bush’s Republicans lost control of Congress because of poor progress in the Iraq war, oil prices began to spike, and the beginnings of the economic decline we are currently experiencing got started.
- Bill Clinton was elected in 1992; his sixth year was 1998. In 1998, Clinton got impeached. The formerly booming dot-com economy busted.
- Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980; his sixth year was 1986. In 1986, Reagan got mired in the Iran-Contra scandal and the economy turned sour on him. In the November elections, his party lost control of the Senate.
- Richard Nixon was elected in 1968; his sixth year was 1974. In 1974, Nixon got into the worst Presidential scandal in American history and had to resign under threat of impeachment and subsequent indictment.
- Lyndon Johnson took office in 1963, so his sixth year would have been 1969. But 1966 would have been Kennedy’s sixth year, and that’s when Vietnam started to get really ugly, both in the theater and at home with Soviet backing of the VC starting in earnest; France threatened to withdraw from NATO; civil rights struggles got nasty when James Meredith was shot and Martin Luther King spoke out against Vietnam and got pelted with rocks.
- Dwight Eisenhower was elected in 1952; his sixth year was 1958. In 1958, the economy slipped into recession and the Mideast melted down as Egypt and Syria united to form a single country, and there was a revolution in Iraq which overthrew.
- Harry S. Truman took office in 1945, when FDR died; his sixth year in office was 1951. In 1951, Truman nearly got himself impeached by a red-baiting Congress when Truman had to fire Douglas MacArthur or practically risk a coup held by the guy. That was also the year the Twenty-Second Amendment was enacted and Truman found himself not grandfathered out of its application and therefore unable to run for re-election in 1952. Democrats lost control of Congress in the 1952 elections.
Historically, things have gone poorly for Presidents in their sixth years. And they never seem to quite get their mojo back after these things, which often coincide with significant gains for the opposition party in Congress.
So while a President might retain a fair amount of charisma (Reagan, Clinton) or at least a strong appeal to a core constituency (Truman, Bush) the fact of the matter is, we get about six good years out of a President and then the last two are just kind of sputtering along to finish out the term.
Mexico may have it right. Mexico’s constitution provides that the President is popularly elected for a single six year term. No candidate for President in Mexico has to run against an incumbent — and on the other hand, no incumbent has ever had to run to defend his record. In the past, the President has also effectively hand-picked his successor, but that’s changed in the last couple of election cycles there. But the big deal there is, the President gets one six year term and it seems that pretty much empties any head of state’s reserve of political capital and goodwill.
Just something to think about. I credit Congressman Serrano for consistency in his convictions but maybe eight years is already too long.