In typical fashion, Congressman Jose Serrano (D-NY) introduced a bill in Congress (like he does every year) that would repeal the 22nd Amendment’s two-term limit on the presidency. While this is nothing new–it has been introduced before by Democrats and Republicans–it is a reminder that this debate is not quite over.
While those in Congress are used to Congressman Serrano’s antics–of introducing this bill every year–repealing the 22nd Amendment is becoming a more popular sentiment among liberal organizations, thinkers, and political pundits. Some feel that President Obama inherited a terrible situation (he did) and deserves more time to figure this out. More than the two terms that the U.S. Constitution allows.
The 22nd Amendment states:
“No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice…”
It is true that this ‘term limit’ was modeled after George Washington’s desire not to run for a third term as President. However, it is also likely true that had the 1st President of the United States been younger, he may have ridden the wave of his popularity to another term in office.
The temptation was certainly there. Fortunately, wisdom prevailed early on in America’s founding as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe all adhered to two-term presidencies.
Just imagine the cultural and political pressure George Washington faced to remain as leader (for a 3rd term) of the newly-born United States of America. The bigger-than-life depiction of George Washington that we read about in history books, was just as intense during his lifetime. His heroics on the battlefield and sage appearance bought him the hearts and minds of his fellow citizens.
Over two hundred years later, President Obama is surrounded by a large, political movement that embraces his dynamic persona. He is not a war hero. Nor is Obama revered by the same percentage of his fellow citizens as Washington. But President Obama is culturally significant.
As the son of interracial parents, President Obama appealed to all races–but particularly to African-Americans. This was, in some cases, the first opportunity for black Americans to truly feel included in the political process of this nation. As the first African-American President of the United States, Barack Obama appeared to have a transcendence that breached partisan politics.
George Washington and Barack Obama may not have much else in common, but one thing is clearly similar–they both have been transformational figures.
The American Republic is fortunate that George Washington did not serve a third term, despite the unwavering support for a longer presidency from his fellow citizens. America survived until 1951, when the 22nd Amendment was ratified by the requisite number of states, without presidential term limits. However, the number of transformational figures in U.S. Presidential history is very small.
As we move into President Obama’s 2nd term, it is certainly possible that some Democrats will urge ‘real’ movement on repealing the 22nd Amendment. It’s a notion easy to laugh at, no doubt. But with a weakened Republican Party, a Democratic-controlled Senate, and a shrinking Republican-controlled House, it is not beyond the realm of possibility for the 22nd Amendment to be criticized as “old-fashioned” and “outdated”. And at some point in the future, repealed.
Whether it was George Washington’s remarkable wisdom or his declining health, America was very fortunate to restrain presidential power (via term limits) for so long without the 22nd Amendment.
With attitudes gradually changing in the negative toward the 22nd Amendment, will the next transformational figure in American politics be able to resist the temptations of popular opinion?