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Letter in New York Times: Presidential Term Limits

I had a letter in the New York Times today, a response to the Op-Ed piece from last Thursday, "No More Second-Term Blues," by James MacGregor Burns and Susan Dunn. My letter was one of seven they chose to publish, and you can find it at the Times, under the heading How Long Should a President Serve? (along with the other six letters).

The gist of the Op-Ed piece was that it's time to repeal the 22nd Amendment, which limits the president to two terms. I took an opposing view, pointing out some of the dangers of eliminating term limits. Specifically, term limits helps keep this country a republic; and the popularity of certain political dynasties in this country could lead to a de facto hereditary monarchy without term limits.

I had a third point I made as well in my original letter, which they had to edit out due to space considerations. I suggested that a one-term limit would help eliminate the lame-duck problem that Burns and Dunn perceived, but that the term should be an eight-year one. Turns out that another letter writer, Adam Reinke of Somerville, Massachusetts, suggested the same thing, but a six-year term instead of an eight-year one, which I like better.

I also appreciated the letters from Ilya Shlyakhter of Princeton, New Jersey, suggesting that candidates who wished to run again would have to take a term off; and from Ron L. Meyers of New York, NY, who suggested that eliminating term limits could go along with creating a possibility of no-confidence votes for greater accountability.


I didn't read the original Op-Ed piece as closely as I should have (I will go back to do so), but if I recall correctly, didn't the piece argue that the incumbent advantage in campaign funding was a reason to do away with the term limits? This didn't make sense to me, because I assume the problem would be exacerbated the longer the incumbent is in office. (I think that's why I didn't read closely; right off the bat this piece seemed illogical to me.)
I've edited my above post to link to the original Op-Ed for people who want to read or re-read it.

The authors didn't claim that the incumbent advantage was a reason to do away with term limits. They acknowledged the advantage as a possible argument against their position, but then dismissed it by saying, "Presidential incumbents already have a significant advantage, but not necessarily an overwhelming one, especially with campaign finance reform. In a democratic republic, only the Constitution should trump the will of the majority, not the economic vicissitudes of the campaign trail."

Needless to say, I disagree with them.
If the problem (as outlined in the original article) is that a second term president is a lame duck from the moment he takes office, why wouldn't a president limited to a single term have exactly the same problem from the moment he is inaugurated?
If every president was elected to serve a single-term, then no one would ever have "second-term blues." Instead, there would develop the feeling that each president gets their term to improve the country, and that's all. It would be a change in our perception as to how the presidency works. As for accountability, the president's party could still be considered accountable when the next election rolls around.
The Confederacy had a single term six-year presidency.
I did not know that. You learn something new every day.

Of course, the Confederacy didn't even last six years, did it?
I noticed the letter on my pre-work go-through, and was planning on commenting.

I'm very mixed on term limits (I don't want them to be necessary/useful, because I want to be able to trust the electorate to make good decisions...but I suspect they are anyway).

No term limits + no-confidence votes could be interesting (and I'd like to see more frequent votes in any case; I think our democracy could be much more participatory, in ways that modern technology allow but which the political process lags behind); I'm less sanguine about 6-8 year terms without a further control, since sometimes you really want to throw the bastards out before that.

I'm against term limits for lower level offices; but I feel strongly that term limits for the highest office in the land is a good idea.
Awesome. I like 5 year terms best, but 6 is logistically better, especially if the elections are placed on odd years so that they do not coincide with congressional elections. It would be better if congressman won on their own merit instead of riding the coat tails of the presidential nominee. This also helps preserve the republic.

It's interesting that there was 1 letter from Canada, 2 from MA and only 1 from NY. I assume that was intentional.
The Times tries to get a variety of letters on topics to reflect the numbers of letters that come in. If you want to see what the Letters Editor himself says on the subject, read his two articles: To the Reader: and The Letters Editor and the Reader: Our Compact, Updated.
I find the 22nd amendment to be pointless for one simple reason: Until FDR, no president ever had served more than two terms. And looking at the presidents since FDR, I can't imagine any of the two-termers serving a third term, with the possible exception of Clinton (and given what he went through in his second term, he may not have). But it's a physically draining, exhausting, difficult job, and only the extenuating circumstances of World War II created the possibility of it happening. And it's precisely because it took extraordinary circumstances for it to happen once means that the only time it's likely to happen again is going to be another extraordinary circumstance, in which case, the 22nd amendment will actually get in the way.
It sounds to me like you'd argue in favor of repealing it....and you give a very good argument. But I still stand by my preference, that the presidency is the one office in the country that needs term limits of some sort.

I do recall near the end of both Reagan's and Clinton's second-terms, a lot of wishful thinking on the part of their supporters.
Very cool!
I note that Shlyakhter lives in Princeton, where the only President to have served two non-consecutive terms, lived in retirement. Cute coinkidink.

December 2016

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