Sunday, January 06, 2013

Should Presidents Be Allowed a Third Term?

Views on the 22nd Amendment's ban on presidents seeking a third term, like views on Senate filibuster rules, will vary according to who is in power at any given time. But given the nation's perilous trajectory in the 21st century, it's worth questioning the status quo. Offered not as as advocacy but as an exploration of the issue, here are some reasons to reconsider the 22nd Amendment:
  1. A president's longer learning curve: Government is far bigger and more complex than it was in the past. It takes longer for a president to gain a working understanding of the government he or she presides over. Eight years may be just enough to finally get a handle on how to be most effective. 
  2. The voters' long learning curve: For some reason, it takes a long time for people to see through their ideological filters and beyond whatever news bubble they occupy, and figure out whether a president is competent or not. By the time George W. Bush had served eight years, there was general agreement on both right and left that he had been a poor president. By the time Bill Clinton had served eight years, and despite resentment of him on both left and right, a strong majority had finally come to agree that he was doing a good job. By the third election, then, people will finally have a clear sense of whether a president is worth voting for. It takes that long for a polarized nation to look beyond party and see the quality of the individual's leadership. In the 2012 election, there was considerable debate about whether to blame Obama for the state of the economy. After eight years, a president can be more clearly given credit or blame for the country's overall trajectory.
  3. The rareness of gifted leaders: Seared into memory is the contrast, at the end of Clinton's second term, between Clinton's clearly articulated vision of integrating market forces with governmental stewardship, and Al Gore's awkwardly run campaign that emphasized the vilification of corporations. Ninety two years earlier, the popular and effective Teddy Roosevelt could have run again in 1908, but chose not to, much to his later regret. The comparatively poor political skills of the two men they chose to carry on their legacy led, in the case of William Howard Taft, to a traumatic rift in the Republican Party, and in the case of Al Gore, to the election of the disastrous George W. Bush. Can the nation afford to lose gifted, energetic leaders, given how rare they turn out to be?
  4. Rallying support for self-sacrifice: One reason the nation is facing the twin "disasters waiting to happen" of climate change and staggering debt is that voters have been unwilling to sacrifice for the common good. They want it all: government services but low taxes, the freedom and convenience of a fossil fuel-subsidized life, but none of the responsibility for the longterm consequences. No leader has dared speak out against this grand indulgence. One can ask if Americans would have rallied and sacrificed the way they did in WWII, if they had not already learned to trust FDR through two previous terms, and whether a president newer to the job would have been able to pull off the sweeping transformations of the economy necessary to put the nation on a war footing.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Storm Relief and the Republican Paradox

As Congress passed $9.7 billion in storm relief for victims of Hurricane Sandy today, 67 Republicans in the House voted against the measure. Those opposed objected to the lack of offsetting cuts in other spending. But the 67, characterized as "anti-spending", have to ask to what extent they themselves played a role in creating the problem. Vast federal expenditures of this sort on storm relief, which could soon total $60 billion in extra debt spending for superstorm Sandy, were predicted long ago as a consequence of human-caused climate change. We heat the planet, oceans rise, storms become more violent, and government has bigger disaster bills. Did the 67 spend the last thirty years trying to reduce our economy's radicalizing impact on climate, or instead working to obstruct not only national efforts but a coordinated global response as well?

If anyone should be upset, it should be those, equally and perhaps more genuinely and consistently opposed to government waste, who have long decried the lack of action to wean the economy of dependence on climate-changing fossil fuels.

Now, because we're still stuck with that dependence, communities damaged by the storm will have little choice but to rebuild with the same problematic infrastructure, in areas increasingly endangered by the very climate change that many politicians have shown little interest in preventing.

Behind the facade of "anti-spending" in Washington, then, are policies that will insure increased spending now and in the future.