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Should the 22nd Amendment be repealed?

Added to the Constitution in the aftermath of F.D.R.'s election to a fourth term, the 22nd Amendment limits presidents to two terms

The 22nd Amendment is antidemocratic. Term limits deny the nation the opportunity to re-elect successful presidents. If Americans are pleased with the performance of their chief executive, why force him out because of a fear of power? Our checks and balances system is strong enough to resist over-weening ambition.

The 22nd Amendment robs us of the most experienced people for the office. Why not let the American people decide if they want to take advantage of that service instead of risking the job on an untried leader?

The Amendment also reduces the political power of the president to unacceptable levels. The day after a president wins a second term, everyone knows he is an instant lame duck. At the moment of his highest experience and level of authority, the president's ability to shape the policy agenda is diminished because everyone knows when he is leaving office. Attention quickly shifts to speculation about a successor, and soon he can do little more than focus on foreign policy. Pressing domestic tasks end up waiting until after the next election.

One purpose of elections is to reward or punish leaders for their performance. Since second-term presidents will not face the electorate again, they have an incentive to use their discretionary authority without fear of retribution. In other words, they are less accountable to the public.

Term limits target a phantom problem, and the costs outweigh the benefits. The Framers were right to reject them, and so should we.

David A. Crockett
Associate Professor of Political Science
Trinity University

Repealing the 22nd Amendment would allow presidents to use their significant power to ward off all challengers well beyond the present two-term limit.

As the nation's supreme elected official, the president has command of the media spotlight. He can stand in front of the military to emphasize his role as commander in chief. With this power, he can raise money and establish contacts to a degree that challengers can only envy.

Without the 22nd Amendment, Republican Ronald Reagan and Democrat Bill Clinton could have won third terms. While their supporters would have welcomed this, the nation would not have been better off, for two reasons.

First, presidents consistently run into scandals in their second term, due to a sense of invulnerability developed after winning re-election. Ethical and legal problems plagued the second terms of Reagan and Clinton, and now that of President Bush. A third-term president would likely be more arrogant and insular, leading to even worse ethical and legal problems.

Second, new times call for fresh ideas and perspectives. A third-term presidency would suffer from stagnation, since the White House tends to seal off its occupant from the issues that concern Americans.

The White House is meant to be an office where the president works, not a palace where he or she can reign like royalty until choosing to step aside. To that end, the 22nd Amendment serves the founders' vision of America as a republic, not a monarchy.

Kevin Bruyneel
Assistant Professor of Politics
Babson College