Better a third termer than a third rater?

In his Washington Post column, Dana Milbank says that during President Obama’s State of the Union speech he found himself wishing to repeal the 22nd Amendment, which limits presidents to two terms. In no way was he basing the case on believing or wishing Obama could be reelected. His main argument is that second-term presidents are treated a lame ducks, that the lameness seems to take effect earlier and earlier in the second term and that three years is an unhealthily long time for lame duckery.

Wrote Milbank:

Yes, Obama remains commander in chief, and he apparently plans to sign so many executive orders that he’s going to have to ice his fingers. But his ‘I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone’ strategy of executive action that he outlined to Congress means he is abandoning anything resembling a serious legislative agenda for the rest of his tenure. That’s by necessity: His standing is diminished by the fact that he can’t run again, the race for his successor is beginning and the opposition knows it can run out the clock on his presidency.

Although the threshold for amending the Constitution is so very, very high that this idea won’t go anywhere, I have some sympathy for it. I’m also struck that the “danger” of a president winning a third term hasn’t seemed very high in the post-FDR period.

Truman could not have been reelected in 1952 nor George W. Bush in 2008, Eisenhower and Reagan were reasonably popular during their second terms but were too old or ill for another four-year term, Johnson declined to run in 1968 even though he could have, Nixon, well you know about that, Ford, Carter and the first Bush never made it to a second term, so it comes down to Bill Clinton as perhaps the only president who might have been prevented from taking a winnable chance at a third term.

Oh, by the way, if you didn’t catch the reference in the headline, I mentioned this slogan when writing about Dick Moe’s fine book on FDR’s decision to seek reelection in 1940. Supporters of his Republican opponent that year, Wendell Willkie, used a slogan of “No Third Termer.” FDR supporters replied: “Better a third termer than a third rater.”

Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 02/01/2014 - 09:57 am.

    Right now

    Obama would have little chance at winning a third term.
    However, remember what caused FDR to seek a third term — the fact that the country was at war and he didn’t trust anyone else to manage it. Otherwise, it is unlikely that he would have been elected for a third time even if he had wanted it (read “”Roosevelt’s Second Act” above).

    So, if we were in an all out existential war right now (I don’t think that Iran or Afghanistan would count) then Obama might have a chance at reelection.

    • Submitted by Peder DeFor on 01/31/2014 - 05:27 pm.

      FDR’s Third Term

      Unless my math is wrong, FDR was re-elected to a third term about thirteen months before Pearl Harbor was bombed.

  2. Submitted by Mike Worcester on 01/31/2014 - 12:08 pm.

    One six-year term?

    I have sometimes pondered if the U.S. should go the opposite direction and limit the president to one six year term. That way they would not have to worry about spending time running for re-election and actually govern.

    A myopic thought perhaps, but it cannot be worse than what we have currently.

  3. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 02/02/2014 - 09:45 pm.

    Is Hillary a wingnut?

    I can’t imagine that Mrs. Clinton enjoys the idea of a third term for President Obama.

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