Washington Post op-ed: Repeal presidential term limits

Tim Cavanaugh Contributor
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As President Obama faces a small revolt within his own party, a Washington Post op-ed is calling for the United States to end presidential term limits and allow him to run again in 2016.

“Barack Obama should be allowed to stand for re election just as citizens should be allowed to vote for — or against — him,” writes New York University Jonathan Zimmerman professor of history and education. “Anything less diminishes our leaders and ourselves.”

Zimmerman argues that the president would enjoy more deference on such unpopular initiatives as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the recent nuclear-arms deal with Iran if he had a legal opportunity to seek additional terms in office.

“Many of Obama’s fellow Democrats have distanced themselves from the reform and from the president,” he writes. “Even former president Bill Clinton has said that Americans should be allowed to keep the health insurance they have.

“Or consider the reaction to the Iran nuclear deal,” Zimmerman continues. “Regardless of his political approval ratings, Obama could expect Republican senators such as Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and John McCain (Ariz.) to attack the agreement. But if Obama could run again, would he be facing such fervent objections from Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.)?”

Zimmerman is untroubled by the prospect that long-term control of executive apparatus, along with the natural advantages of incumbency, might smooth the way for continuing rule by a president regardless of genuine popular will. The Obama Internal Revenue Service targeted the president’s political enemies before the 2012 election. The history of presidents for life in other nations shows ever-growing popular votes for the incumbent that in most cases masked widespread popular discontent.

The Post op-ed also avoids an important pro-executive argument for term limits — that a second-term president freed from electoral hurly burly can focus on matters important to the nation. Obama made this argument explicitly to Russia’s then-president Dmitri Medvedev in March 2012, saying that he would have “more flexibility” to make concessions to Russia after his last election.

Nor does Zimmerman entertain the possibility that Democrats may be fleeing Obama’s policies out of practical good sense, a move that they are free to make when not under pressure support a candidate for re-election. He notes correctly that George Washington established the two-term precedent not out of political philosophy but because he thought the republic was in good shape. But he does not specify what crises — other than the ones of Obama’s own making — the country is now facing that would require a third term.

Zimmerman blames a “large Republican majority” that “took over Congress” in 1947 for the passage of the 22nd Amendment in 1951. In fact an amendment to the U.S. Constitution must be approved by the legislatures in three fourths of the states. The presidential term limit was duly approved in this manner, and while the Democrat Harry Truman was in office at the time, the first full presidency under term limits was the administration of the exceedingly popular Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower, under whom the nation enjoyed a lengthy period of peace and prosperity.

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