Thursday, July 30, 2015

Giving the president the hook -- July 30, 2015 column


Good news: Barack Obama will not subvert the Constitution and grab a third presidential term.  

Most Americans never imagined that he’d do such a thing, but oddball doomsayers have warned for years that Obama was angling for a presidency for life.   

“I actually think I’m a pretty good president. I think if I ran, I could win. But I can’t,” Obama said Tuesday in Ethiopia. “The law is the law.”

He was giving the hook to African leaders who sometimes govern for decades. In this country, though, his comments set off a Seinfeldian debate about nothing. Could he win a third term if he could run, which he can’t?

His comments about age and presidential term limits, though, are worth examining.

“I’m still a pretty young man, but I know that somebody with new energy and new insights will be good for my country,” said Obama, who will turn 54 Tuesday.

“In our world, old thinking can be a stubborn thing. That’s one of the reasons why we need term limits -- old people think old ways,” he said.

If Obama believes this country needs someone younger than he next time around, what does that say about the Democrats’ elderly team of rivals? Grandma Hillary, 67, the presumptive frontrunner, may have a golden resume but Clinton is hard to sell as a candidate of new energy and new insights.

Throngs of Democrats flock to hear Bernie Sanders, who has vinegar, but he is 73. Joe Biden’s humanity makes him the Democrats’ favorite potential presidential candidate who’s not in the race. He’s 72. It may take a Hillary implosion to bring him into the fray.  

Among Republican hopefuls, several are younger than Obama – and all can claim new energy and insight. Bobby Jindal and Ted Cruz are 44, Scott Walker is 47, and Rand Paul is 52. But it’s an irrepressible old guy with no elective experience who’s leading the pack.

Donald Trump, 69, said he wished Obama could run again so Trump could beat him and everyone else. Trump has energy and unusual insights, all right, but he scares most Republicans. Also in their 60s: Jeb Bush, 62, Lindsey Graham, 60, John Kasich, 63, and Rick Perry, 65.

Setting aside the current competition, it’s worth asking: Do we need presidential term limits or should voters decide how long to keep a president?

"If they want to vote for someone, we shouldn’t have a rule that tells them they can’t.”

That’s not a wistful Bill Clinton. That’s conservative superhero President Ronald Reagan who said in 1987 that he hoped to “start a movement” after he left the White House to repeal the two-term limit on the presidency.  The change would not apply to him, Reagan said, but to his successors.

Since the 22nd Amendment was ratified in 1951, people have been arguing about the wisdom of prohibiting someone from being elected to the presidency more than twice or serving more than 10 years. A vice president who serves more than two years of a previous president’s term and a full term may not run for re-election.  

For example, more than two years remained in Richard Nixon’s term when he resigned and Vice President Gerald Ford took over. Had Ford beat Jimmy Carter in 1976, Ford could have served only one full term and could not have run for re-election.

The Founders saw the presidency as a short-term gig. Delegates to the 1797 Constitutional Convention debated a six- or seven-year term and then agreed on four years. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson set the precedent of two terms, and the tradition stuck until the 1940s.

Only after Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt won a fourth term did the rules change. Bills proposing a constitutional amendment to repeal the 22nd Amendment have died in Congress over and over.  

As they should. The Founders who feared a restoration of the monarchy had the right idea. No one person should dominate our highest office indefinitely. We should keep the two-term limit. Even Obama is fine with it.     

“You can see my gray hair – I’m getting old,” he said.         

©2015 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.


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