Editorial: For the presidency, one and done

The Patriot Ledger

Between the interminable primary campaign and President Bush’s lame duck State of the Union address Monday, it may finally be time to revise the Constitution to limit future presidents to a single six-year term.

Bush’s struggle to maintain relevance and a review of the middle of his service finds that he, like many of his predecessors who ran for reelection, were more concerned about campaigning than governance at the end of the first term and became afterthoughts in the final months of their second term without the power of the office.

The one-and-done idea is neither radical nor new, dating back to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 when delegates first proposed a single seven-year term, then six years and back to seven before settling on the current four-year-term, albeit with unlimited reelection opportunities. The office wasn’t limited to two terms until the 22nd Amendment was ratified in 1951.

Clearly, presidential terms are not sacrosanct.

Some argue a six-year term would burden the country 50 percent longer if a failure of a president were in office. But you can count on two mittens the number of presidents whose tenure was truly marked by such dismal performance the country barely recovered.

A case can be made that a single term could have prevented Richard Nixon from some of his most egregious actions and may have left a legacy of foreign and domestic achievement that is often overlooked because of his crimes.

Few presidents have been able to escape the lame duck status when Congress realizes it can flex its muscles and members conclude the White House occupant can no longer help or hinder them.

In his final State of the Union address, Bush attacked the congressional addiction to earmarks, those attachments to spending bills that allocate about $20 billion annually for more than 10,000 items to curry favor or votes.

While it’s a praiseworthy effort, earmarks represent about 1 percent of the federal budget and the political animal that is George Bush showed little presidential fortitude to attack such additions on spending when the GOP ruled Congress, allowing some 55,000 earmarks worth more than $100 billion to flow out of Washington. He doesn’t have a prayer with a Democrat-controlled House and Senate.

But he also offered some statesman-like proposals in calling for bipartisan consensus on Medicare and Social Security, acknowledged the need to help the world solve its problems with greenhouse gases and wean the country from foreign oil dependence.

Would that this agenda have been introduced when he had the power to back it up, perhaps the Bush legacy would be far different than that which is suggested by his abysmal approval ratings.

We’d urge voters to look long and hard at this year’s choices to determine if that candidate has the strength of character to implement his or her agenda and the courage to fight off fears of political blowback in determining what is the best course for the country, not what is safest for a second term.