On the day of the Democratic debate, ThinkProgress had an essay headlined, “The First Democratic Debate Is Tonight. Too Bad The 2 Most Qualified Candidates Are Banned.”
When I saw the Tweet promoting the item, I clicked just out of morbid curiosity to see who else in the world they thought should be on the stage that already included the marginal O’Malley, Webb and Chaffee. I imagined it being someone to the left of Bernie Sanders, this being ThinkProgress.
But… again,this being ThinkProgress… their “two most qualified candidates” turned out to be… Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
And I found myself granting them the point, to a certain extent.
Not that I want a third term of either man (if only for their own sakes — I saw how the job aged them, and those extra terms killed FDR), but I’m always glad to see someone willing to challenge term limits.
Now if you’re going to have term limits, I suppose the chief executive would be the office to be thus limited — for all the cliche reasons such as preventing the development of a de facto monarchy and so forth.
But as the piece notes, the timing of the 22nd Amendment was pretty weird, and a little hard to accept as being at all about good government. The Republicans who had just gained control of Congress rammed it through shortly after the passing of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who had shut them out of four elections in a row.
At almost any other time in history, one could have made a somewhat credible argument for limits that didn’t involve crass partisanship. But not at that time. Roosevelt’s was one of the most successful presidencies in our history. His time in office was a sustained argument against limits, not an argument for.
But set aside Roosevelt and partisanship. In general, limits are of dubious value for these reasons stated in the piece:
Term limits, moreover, come at a high price. They lock the most experienced potential executives out of office. They periodically place untested leaders in power who may not have the seasoning necessary to handle difficult issues that arise early in their term. They increase corruption by shifting power towards lobbyists. And they strip voters of their ability to make their own decisions. If the American people actually are uncomfortable with a third Clinton or Obama term, they have an easy solution: they can vote for someone else.
Yeah, I know. The 22nd Amendment is here to stay. But some of those same arguments militate against acting to limit other offices. Which is why I’ve used some of them in the past…