There was a firestorm late last year and into the beginning of this year over a proposed constitutional amendment introduced by Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY) that would have repealed the 22nd Amendment, which limits presidents to two terms in office.
Serrano has introduced this constitutional amendment in every Congress since 1997 — stretching back to Bill Clinton and George W. Bush’s presidencies. Other members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, have introduced similar proposals, though, none of them have ever been given serious consideration.
But on Friday, Jonathan Zimmerman, a history professor at New York University, revived the debate with an editorial at the Washington Post, in which he declared that presidential term limits should come to an end because it an impediment to accountability and, also, makes a president a lame duck:
Many of Obama’s fellow Democrats have distanced themselves from the reform and from the president. 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. 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.)?
Probably not. Democratic lawmakers would worry about provoking the wrath of a president who could be reelected. Thanks to term limits, though, they’ve got little to fear.
Nor does Obama have to fear the voters, which might be the scariest problem of all. If he chooses, he could simply ignore their will. And if the people wanted him to serve another term, why shouldn’t they be allowed to award him one?
It’s time to put that power back where it belongs. When Ronald Reagan was serving his second term, some Republicans briefly floated the idea of removing term limits so he could run again. The effort went nowhere, but it was right on principle. Barack Obama should be allowed to stand for re election just as citizens should be allowed to vote for — or against — him. Anything less diminishes our leaders and ourselves.
Zimmerman’s column is thought provoking, though, most are dismissing it out of hand. For example, Truth Revolt opined that the column “calls for more four years of Obama.” Zero Hedge wrote that the column promoted a “Dictator Obama.” The editorial deserves more of a response than this.
First, the fact that President Obama is a lame duck is his own doing. He has been unable to build consensus and has purposefully sought to demonize Republicans, making it virtually impossible for him to enact much of his agenda.
What’s more, his signature domestic achievement, Obamacare, has, to this point, hit with a thud, and Americans have responded, which is why his approval ratings have plummeted and his credibility has suffered.
Contrast this to then-President Bill Clinton who was able to work with congressional Republicans to build consensus on budget agreements and other bipartisan accomplishments, including a tax cut package, in his second term. Despite a contentious relationship with Congress that eventually boiled over with impeachment, Clinton remained popular with the American public throughout the course of his presidency.
Secondly, even without term limits, it wouldn’t change how members of Congress react to policy. Remember, these guys stand for re-election, too, and have to respond to constituents’ concerns back home.
Whether it’s a red state Democrat fretting over the administration’s poor implementation of Obamacare or a senator who represents a state with a large Jewish population, backlash and dissent within a president’s own party should be expected. Frankly, it’s disingenuous to suggest that this wouldn’t exist or wouldn’t be as notable if President Obama were standing for re-election again.
Though party line politics are expected, the White House isn’t the only constituency about members of Congress are concerned. It’s silly to suggest otherwise, as Zimmerman has done.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, if we want to talk about the presidency in real terms, let’s discuss the need to rein in executive power, thus restoring it as an equal branch of government.
Thanks to years of expansion, president’s enjoy substantial power that often allows them to undermine Congress and enact laws through executive or regulatory fiat. Though President George W. Bush greatly expanded executive power, President Obama has taken it a step further, frequently blurring constitutional lines between the legislative and executive branches.
There are many examples of this, but some that immediately come to mind are unilateral delays of Obamacare provisions, new environmental rules created by the EPA, and military engagements without the consent of Congress. Restoring constitutional boundaries should be the first priority of Congress, rather than ensuring that one man can be endlessly re-elected.
It’s a simplistic view to say, “Well, President Obama would be so ineffective if he could stand for re-election again.” Governing was never meant to be easy, and the presidency was never supposed to be a type of royalty, even if democratically elected.