(posted December 27, 2007)
The motivation for the two term limit in the 22nd Amendment is that enough, even of a good thing, is enough. Given that the Clinton years were not an unmitigated boon, the electorate understandably has qualms about electing the Clinton family to a third term.
The more Hillary touts her experience and the more it looks like Bill is seeking something like a reelection once removed, the more Barack Obama and John Edwards rise in the polls.
Last Sunday, Maureen Dowd suggested that Hillary Clinton is offering herself as a way of electing Bill a third time. Ms. Dowd is amused, and perhaps anticipating happy hunting. Ayawisgi in the Daily Kos and Michael Goodwin in the New York Daily News strike the same theme and are decidedly opposed. Douglas W. Kmiec would be against Hillary in any event, but he seizes on the prospect of Bill Clinton as a "shadow President" to muse whether Bill should be exiled to the Supreme Court. This gives Kmiec, a reactionary who welcomed Grand Inquisitor Kenneth Starr to Pepperdine Law School, a chance to mention that Bill's law license was suspended for "serious misconduct."
Obviously, Hillary's election would not violate the letter of the 22nd Amendment; she has never been elected before, Nevertheless, the Amendment is a political problem because it is a Constitutional embodiment of a vaguer political thought that eight years is enough.
In a quite readable law review article in the February 1999 Minnesota Law Review, professors Bruce G. Peabody and Scott E. Gant discuss the history of the 22nd Amendment. Term limits were debated at the Constitutional Convention because of fears of a monarch-like reign, but were ultimately rejected. The main argument against limiting re-election was that the president whose term was ending by law would become indifferent to success and, at worst, corrupt.
The result was that the presidential term was shortened from the originally proposed single seven year term to shorter four year terms with the prospect of reelection. Hamilton defended this choice in Federalists No. 69 and 72, arguing that a term limited president would be weakened and unmotivated and that the electorate should limit terms, not the Constitution.
Yet, the idea of term limits for the president did not die. In the century and a half until the ratification of the 22nd Amendment, despite the general understanding, aided by Washington and Jefferson voluntarily leaving after eight years, that two terms was a reasonable period in office, various term limiting amendments were introduced into Congress and various presidents pushed the third term envelope. However, nothing was passed and, for various reasons, no one was elected President for a third term.
Eventually, the 22nd Amendment was passed by a Republican Congress in reaction to FDR's four elections. However, it was more than just a partisan measure. The margin in the Senate and House was substantially greater than the Republicans' majority because of considerable Democratic support, albeit largely from the South. The history presented by Peabody and Gant shows that while the Amendment certainly had partisan purposes, it was rooted in a long held sense that even a successful president should give way after eight years.
This is the problem that Hillary faces, a problem that is made worse by her need to claim her eight years as First Lady as the requisite experience to be president and the presence of the same annoying smug and secretive entourage that we have already endured for eight years. Mandy Grunwald?!?
Slovenly Clinton strategist Mark Penn's recent appearance on Hardball with Obama and Edwards advisors has been constantly replayed, ostensibly because of their conflict over who was injecting Obama's admitted cocaine use into the election debate. However, what I saw was more of the dodging and parsing that we remember without fondness from the 1992-2000 White House. Admittedly, the nonsense from the last eight years has been more serious, who can compare Clinton's travel office replacements with Bush's U.S. Attorney replacements, but we want fresh, new nonsense, not more of the same nonsense.
The fact is that Hillary would not be running for President if she were not Bill Clinton's wife. It is specious to criticize her for tagging onto her husband because if she were not Bill Clinton's wife, there is no reason to think she would have been on the national stage, given that she lacks any visible warmth or any particular public speaking ability. With this benefit comes the burden that it seems like we are extending a Presidency into a third term, as opposed to, say electing a sitting vice-president to succeed a successful, but flawed President.
Hillary is not helping herself on this score. Her refusal to even acknowledge David Gregory's question about Bill's statement that Obama would be a "roll of the dice" reminds anyone who was paying attention of her pink-suit news conference where she pretended to answer questions, while refusing to acknowledge the obvious about her cattle future transactions. Her relentless staying on message is at once reminiscent of, and considerably less artful than, the modus operandi of the first two terms of the Clinton administration.
Moreover, Hillary refuses to tell us what exactly she did during those first two terms. Despite Patrick Healy's valiant attempt, we really don't know whether she was a co-president or merely planned State Dinners. Obama can accuse her of claiming credit for the successes and no involvement in the failures because we don't know what really happened.
We know she tried and failed to implement national health care, and we know she did it in the most secretive and arrogant way possible, but what about after that? Was she really flinging lamps? How did she stand on welfare reform, to pick a subject where we have heard contradictory reports? We certainly don't know where she stood on the negative aspects of the Clinton administration, such as the pardon of Marc Rich after, among other things, Rich donated $70,000 to Hillary Clinton's New York Senate campaign.
The more Hillary tries to use Bill's presidency as experience, the more we feel like it is the same old, same old and the closer it approaches the 22nd Amendment situation, as Ann Althouse points out at the end of this clip. The idea that we have had enough of the Clintons and the Bushes is deeply rooted in our feelings about government. If Hillary had left Bill and were striking out on her own, we would feel less this way, but that is not what she is doing. She is campaigning for a third term while invoking executive privilege as to what she did during the first two.
It is now apparent that Hillary will have trouble surviving this and being nominated Ironically, if she does, the Republicans, the party that has been in almost total power for the past eight years, will have landed jelly side up. Hillary will seem like the continuation of the same old, same old and the GOP will have a fresh face unfettered by the ghost of administrations past.