Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
December 18, 2014

How to End the Second Term Curse

Larry Summers: “Would the U.S. government function better if presidents were limited to one term, perhaps of six years? The unfortunate, bipartisan experience with second terms suggests the issue is worthy of debate. The historical record helps makes the case for change.”

“Why the record is not dispositive, however, is suggested by the term ‘lame duck.’ As the phrase suggests, leaders nearing the end of their time in office lose the ability to influence other actors by offering future rewards and punishments or by making deals in which they commit to future actions. If this is the main reason second terms are difficult, then removing the possibility of reelection could simply pull the problems forward into first terms.”

“This is why many scholars regard the current constitutional limit of two presidential terms as problematic. However, reviewing the fairly dismal experience of second terms, my guess is that problems caused by lame-duck effects are much smaller than those caused by a toxic combination of hubris and exhaustion after the extraordinary effort that a president and his team must exert to achieve reelection.”

  • CJR

    I still think a Congressional version of a “No Confidence” vote to call an election, along with a minimum and maximum time between elections would really help out the US political system. We would not be saddled with an incompetent leader for extended periods of time (see GWB post-Katrina). Also, since we’re already dealing with constant campaigning, we might as well do away with the 1 YEAR of primaries and preliminary elections.
    Also, reducing the amount of time between the election and the inauguration (see Britain,where the PM has less than a day to move out of 10 Downing Street after he loses an election) would force the minority party to have a shadow cabinet. Who is going to be the Sec Def? Well, maybe it won’t be the biggest campaign donor from Lockheed Martin, or the governor who was ale to turn out the highest number of votes. Maybe it would be someone with some QUALIFICATIONS and expertise on the subject, as the shadow cabinet would be chosen BEFORE the elections.
    But, that’s just another pipe dream, as is eliminating the electoral college, shotgun primaries, instant runoff voting, public funding of campaigns, eliminating ALL campaign contributions, etc.

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