Bill Clinton: Get rid of the 22nd Amendment

posted at 10:25 am on November 8, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

National Journal picks up on a truly odd moment from today’s Morning Joe in more ways than one.  Joe Scarborough tells Bill Clinton that he will be inundated with e-mail and calls after the end of their segment asking why Bill Clinton can’t run for a third term in office, and then blames Republicans for “not wanting another FDR” after his fourth term ended in less than three months due to his death.  “Shouldn’t Americans have that choice?” Scarborough asks Clinton, who seems pleased with the notion:

Where to start?  First, the 22nd Amendment codified what had been tradition in American presidential politics, starting with the first American President, George Washington, who turned down an opportunity to be a lifetime President (and probably dictator) by declining a run at a third term.  Hailed as the American Cincinnatus, no American President ever arrogantly thought himself so great as to transcend Washington until FDR in 1940.  When he passed away, the nation figured that it should protect against another arrogant politician by defining term limits for the most powerful office in the US — and given that it took two-thirds in both the House and Senate to pass the Amendment and then three-quarters of the states to ratify it, that sentiment was clearly shared by more than just the Republicans of that time.  Or does Scarborough not understand the process of amending the Constitution?

Next, there are very large qualitative differences between the American presidency and Prime Ministers in parliamentary systems.  The former runs the executive branch independently, with a co-equal Congress providing checks and balances but not authority over the President.  In modern times, the presidency has become ever more powerful and difficult to oversee, which makes Washington’s precedent even more necessary.  Parliament exercises authority over Prime Ministers in those systems, and can bring down a government on a single vote of no confidence if necessary, prompting new elections within weeks.  Serving three or four terms in that position doesn’t create the issues of unchecked power that three or four terms in our federal system could produce, and almost certainly would produce with an executive who somehow feels that no one else alive should hold the job he (or she) had held for two or more terms already.

In general, I don’t favor term limits for the reason that Scarborough offers here, which is that voters should determine who best represents them in legislatures at all levels.  (They also don’t have the cleansing effect people presume, which California has amply demonstrated over the last two decades.)  But we have imbued the Presidency with so much power and so many hurdles to true oversight that it remains in our best interest to cleanse the office on a regular basis — and that’s just as true of Clinton as it was of Bush, and would be of Obama as well if he ever manages to win a second term at all.

Update: Ugh.  Joe may not know the process, and I may not know how to count.  Of course it was the 22nd, not the 25th, Amendment that controls presidential term limits.  The 25th covers presidential succession.

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Comment pages: 1 2

Clinton, self-serving as ever, merely wants another couple terms, that’s all.

coldwarrior on November 8, 2011 at 12:51 PM

Ed, there’s nothing left to write; you covered everything very thoroughly in your post. Good job.

itsnotaboutme on November 8, 2011 at 12:57 PM

Didn’t Grant try a 3rd term as well? I thought he did but lost the nomination.

angryed on November 8, 2011 at 12:49 PM

The idea was kicked around by some in the Republican Party and maybe even considered by Grant, but he never actually ran. Besides, he was aware of his throat cancer before leaving office.

NotCoach on November 8, 2011 at 1:02 PM

Clinton knows it would take five or six years years to repeal the 22nd amendment. So what is he after. Well, of course, it is a first term for Hillary.

By building the nostalgia for his third term, he is actually pushing to get himself in the White House via his wife. All of this is not lost on the Obama reelect folks. Subtle? Subtle like a brick.

Corky Boyd on November 8, 2011 at 1:14 PM

Didn’t Grant try a 3rd term as well? I thought he did but lost the nomination.

angryed on November 8, 2011 at 12:49 PM

Yup. Grant ran for a third non-consecutive term in 1880.

Mister Mets on November 8, 2011 at 1:17 PM

Expand 22 to include all elected officials.

Wade on November 8, 2011 at 1:20 PM

Clinton is like a fungus . . . you can scrape it off but it just keeps coming back.

rplat on November 8, 2011 at 1:31 PM

Expand 22 to include all elected officials.

Wade on November 8, 2011 at 1:20 PM

Amen.

The “desires of the voters” is not sacrosanct. We have institutions to control popular will.

BocaJuniors on November 8, 2011 at 1:49 PM

Oh, yes, that’s what we need: unlimited terms in office for Slick Willie and/or Barack “Alinsky” Obama.

Hubris, chutzpah, there just doesn’t exist a word that adequately describes arrogance this deep.

RebeccaH on November 8, 2011 at 1:49 PM

Didn’t this guy have some sex scandals, too? Oh, I forgot, he’s a Democrat so it’s OK. In fact, it makes him awesome!

yubley on November 8, 2011 at 2:01 PM

A fundamental problem with democracy is the fact that candidates are self selected. No normal person would want to hold public office so the only people who run for office are those who are seeking power.

Power is the last thing you want to give a person who is seeking it. They cannot be trusted with it.

The Rock on November 8, 2011 at 4:44 PM

I’m surprised they could fit Bubba’s ego on stage.

GarandFan on November 8, 2011 at 10:33 AM

not nearly as big as the one of the current occupant…

jimver on November 8, 2011 at 4:46 PM

WH occupant that is…or well, occupier….

jimver on November 8, 2011 at 4:49 PM

I like term limits. Expand them to congress.

JellyToast on November 8, 2011 at 4:50 PM

Republicans! This why there is a voting gender gap.

Folks want Bill Clinton. With want in a certain sense.

This can help us reactionaries get the votes of the fairer sex!

Put Cain in the White House and all the women who want to be raped or groped or give ____ can go and make an appointment.

They get free pizza coupons afterward if they are good.

IlikedAUH2O on November 8, 2011 at 5:14 PM

Ya know, I wasn’t around when the Constitution was drafted, I think the entire thing should be repealed because no one asked for my say.

Bishop on November 8, 2011 at 10:50 AM

Just for the record that wasn’t my point at all. I was replying to some guy who was claiming “We” passed a constitutional amendment. “We” didn’t do anything. Just like “We” didn’t win world war two, I’m sick of people today trying to claim direct credit for some action that happened decades before they were even likely born.

triple on November 8, 2011 at 5:43 PM

Parliament exercises authority over Prime Ministers in those systems, and can bring down a government on a single vote of no confidence if necessary, prompting new elections within weeks.

ummm… No, no it can’t. See, if the Prime Minister is the Prime Minister, it’s because his party got more seats. Normally, that party has the majority and there’s nothing anyone can do. In a minority government, sure. But in such a scenario, almost every month is a hurdle. Also, we in Canada have had Harper in a minority government for a long time. There has been several no confidence votes and now he has a majority.

So I have to call a complete and utter BS on your argument. It’s a 100% FAIL!

MrX on November 8, 2011 at 6:04 PM

This is just a foretaste of the Barack after-presidency. You think this cheesy character is annoying, wait til you get a load of Obama lecturing us for the next 30-40 years. Sure all the global chaos, domestic anarchy, economic collapse and stripping of US security Obama has wrought is bad, but what I will resent most that the clueless 53 percent of our fellow countrypersons inflicted on us is that we’ll have to look at that pathetic smug puss of his for-freakin-EVER.

curved space on November 8, 2011 at 8:35 PM

If it prevents that snake (with apologies to snakes) from occupying the White House again, I’m all for keeping the 22nd amendment.

ncborn on November 8, 2011 at 10:52 PM

Comment pages: 1 2