Limiting the American Presidency to Six Years

By Narrelle Gilchrist

On January 20th, 2017, thousands will pack the National Mall, craning their necks to glimpse a sight of the newly elected President taking the oath of office. The President will have an enormous task in front of him: leading the people of the United States. But he will have another job that will consume him: maintaining his public image and keeping his approval ratings up, so that in 2020, he will be reelected. The next campaign will begin the day after the last one ends, and as with every administration, the President’s time will be split between governing and campaigning. Yet, this split hardly leads to an effective democracy. A system in which Presidents are concerned more about their image and approval ratings than about policy is a recipe for disaster. It is time to fix our broken Presidential system. If American presidents were limited to one six-year term, if the campaigning ended the moment a president is sworn in, we can finally sever the implacable link between presidents and politics and create a far more effective government for all.

Six years rather than eight would enable the president to get more, not less, done. The first four years of an American presidency are consumed with reelection; the President cannot take any action without considering its political ramifications, for the President is also the candidate. He must focus on keeping his actions politically correct, appeasing interest groups and swing voters, and fulfilling campaign pledges at all costs. More often than not, he puts these priorities above real policy objectives and decisions. While President Obama may have acted on the Keystone XL pipeline in 2012, candidate Obama couldn’t, out of a fear that he would alienate environmental activists or labor leaders in the election.[1] Meanwhile, from the day the President took office, Republican leaders in Congress pledged to block his legislative goals, not just out of an ideological difference, but because they, too, had 2012 in mind. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell infamously remarked, “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”[2] This re-election mania is hardly unique; both sides of the aisle have been guilty, whether in the White House or on Capitol Hill, in almost every administration in recent history. But what if, the day the President were elected, the campaigning was finished? Certainly, the President would still have some concern over the image of his party, but the day in, day out focus on opinion polls and approval ratings would be over. Instead, the President could focus on what he came to the office to do: leading the American people. He could focus on his agenda and his vision, and the opposing party could focus not on painting our president as an ineffective, unintelligent dictator so that they can defeat him in four years, but rather on working with him and accepting him as our president.

Limiting the presidency to six years would deal not only with the first-term reelection mania, but also with the historical second-term presidential curse. During the sixth year of an American presidency, when the President attains “lame-duck” status, Washington, D.C. is inevitably gridlocked and the President becomes an ineffective, highly unpopular figurehead. Historically, the second midterm in a president’s administration has yielded huge gains, and often Congressional shifts of power, for the opposing party. Of the last five two-term presidents, not one retained the support of either house of Congress in his last two years in office. In the 1958 midterms, President Eisenhower’s party lost an astonishing 48 seats in the House of Representatives and 13 seats in the Senate to the Democrats. More recently, in 2006, President George W. Bush lost the support of both houses, and just last year, the second midterm of Barack Obama’s presidency saw the loss of the Senate for the Democrats and solidified a majority for the Republicans in the House.[3] With Congress overwhelmingly set against him, the President, whose clock is running out, unvaryingly faces more opposition than ever and struggles to attain even the minutest accomplishments. From the Iran-Contra Scandal in Reagan’s administration to the resignation of Eisenhower’s chief of staff and the impeachment of President Clinton, each of the last five two-term presidents has seen his power and influence unravel during his sixth year. In the last two years of his presidency, President George W. Bush saw four of his vetoes overridden by Congress, a sign of how weak his power had become.[4] Quite often, in the final two years of an administration, Congress, along with a majority of the American people, simply waits out the clock on the President. Clearly, this second-term curse is detrimental for our nation. If the President’s sixth year were his last, Congress would find it much easier to work with him, instead of against him, and everyone in the nation, often including the President, would breathe a sigh of relief.

At the same time, it is important to note that during a six-year term, the President would still be beholden to popular opinion due to the pressure of midterm elections. The President would not, as some fear, have an unchecked ability to wield his personal ideology; each midterm, the voters could determine whether to give him the support of both houses of Congress, the support of only one, or the support of neither – in effect, total control, partial control, or minimal control to carry out his agenda. These elections would force the President to remain in tune with popular opinion, keeping his party in a favorable light, but without the need to focus so intensively on his personal public image and campaign supporters. This lessened focus on personal campaigning would also mean that “lame-duck” status, which would still set in after the final midterm, wouldn’t be as detrimental as it is now. Quite simply, the attention span and tolerance of the American people would not have been used up yet, for they would not have already lived through two intense election cycles being inundated with the President’s virtues and slogans. Even as the clock ran out, many in both Congress and elsewhere may remain willing and capable of working with the President, not against him. Thus, the single six-year term would yield an executive who not only remains connected to the needs of the people, but who also can use his time as effectively as possible, focusing almost solely on what he came to office to do: govern.

Despite its seemingly clear benefits, a single six year-term for American presidents is a concept that still seems foreign and even bizarre to most individuals who have so long been accustomed to the President’s “right” to be reelected. Yet, the constitutional change might not be as drastic as one might think. In fact, the concept may actually be more in line with the Founding Fathers’ intentions than the current system. In 1787, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention originally voted for a single seven-year term for the presidency. This decision was only altered because the delegates decided not to limit the number of terms the first president, George Washington, could serve. The idea of a one-term limit was brought up again in 1947, when the six-year term was originally suggested. However, the single-term was shot down in favor of the 22nd Amendment, which limited the presidency to two terms.[5] Now, in an age when the attention span of Americans is at an all-time low, it is time to shorten the presidency once more, this time to a far more productive, smooth, and efficient six years.

The American people are tired of a system that inevitably leaves them hanging in frustration, trapped by gridlock, and inundated with partisan politics. A presidency must be a catalogue of policies and governing, not a never-ending campaign. It is time for a change, for a presidency focused on policy, not politics. Next year, let’s elect a President, be it Jeb Bush, Bernie Sanders, or Donald Trump, who has only one job: serving the people of the United States of America. Let’s vote for a single six-year presidential term.

Works Cited

Adams, Myra. “Why One Six Year Presidential Term Would Be Good for America.” The Daily Beast. December 5th, 2013. August 6th, 2015. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/12/05/why-one-six-year-presidential-term-would-be-good-for-america.html

Adams, Myra. “Six Years and Out: It’s Time to Change the Four Year Presidential Term.” National Review. October 20th, 2014. August 4th, 2015. http://www.nationalreview.com/article/390730/six-years-and-out-its-time-change-four-year-presidential-term-myra-adams

Broder, John M., and Dan Frosch. “U.S. Delays Decision on Pipeline until after Election.” The New York Times. November 10th, 2011. July 31st, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/11/us/politics/administration-to-delay-pipeline-decision-past-12-election.html?_r=0

Hobratsch, Jonathan. “The Second Term Midterm Presidential Curse.” The Huffington Post. October 30th, 2014. TheHuffingtonPost.com, Inc. March 15th, 2015. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jonathan-hobratsch/the-secondterm-midterm-pr_b_6072276.html

Kessler, Glenn. “When Did McConnell Say He Wanted to Make Obama a ‘One-Term President?” The Washington Post. September 25th, 2012. July 31st, 2015. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/post/when-did-mcconnell-say-he-wanted-to-make-obama-a-one-term-president/2012/09/24/79fd5cd8-0696-11e2-afff-d6c7f20a83bf_blog.html

Mitchell, Donald Craig. “Why America Needs a One Term President.” The Huffington Post. November 17th, 2011. July 31st, 2015. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/donald-craig-mitchell/bill-clinton-third-term_b_1099959.html

Summers, Lawrence. “Ending Presidents’ Second-Term Curse.” The Washington Post. August 10th, 2014. July 31st, 2015. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/lawrence-summers-ending-presidents-second-term-curse/2014/08/10/84dee500-1f34-11e4-ae54-0cfe1f974f8a_story.html

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Narrelle is a homeschooled teen from West Palm Beach, Florida. In addition to writing, she enjoys singing in a choir and playing piano, and loves literature, politics, history, astronomy, and physics. 

 

 

[1] Broder, John M., and Dan Frosch. “U.S. Delays Decision on Pipeline until after Election.” The New York Times. November 10th, 2011. July 31st, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/11/us/politics/administration-to-delay-pipeline-decision-past-12-election.html?_r=0

[2] Kessler, Glenn. “When Did McConnell Say He Wanted to Make Obama a ‘One-Term President?” The Washington Post. September 25th, 2012. July 31st, 2015. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/post/when-did-mcconnell-say-he-wanted-to-make-obama-a-one-term-president/2012/09/24/79fd5cd8-0696-11e2-afff-d6c7f20a83bf_blog.html

[3] Hobratsch, Jonathan. “The Second Term Midterm Presidential Curse.” The Huffington Post. October 30th, 2014. TheHuffingtonPost.com, Inc. March 15th, 2015. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jonathan-hobratsch/the-secondterm-midterm-pr_b_6072276.html

[4] Summers, Lawrence. “Ending Presidents’ Second-Term Curse.” The Washington Post. August 10th, 2014. July 31st, 2015. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/lawrence-summers-ending-presidents-second-term-curse/2014/08/10/84dee500-1f34-11e4-ae54-0cfe1f974f8a_story.html

[5] Mitchell, Donald Craig. “Why America Needs a One Term President.” The Huffington Post. November 17th, 2011. July 31st, 2015. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/donald-craig-mitchell/bill-clinton-third-term_b_1099959.html

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