In a recent speech championing immigration reform, President Obama said, “I’m not running for office again. I just believe it is the right thing to do.”
Given the number of times Obama has publicly stated that his name will never be on another ballot, he’s beginning to sound like a broken record.
But there is much hidden wisdom in Obama’s repeated statement. Imagine if we did things a bit differently. Imagine if President Obama, elected in 2008, had been allotted just one six-year term coming to a close at the end of 2014.
The timing would sure seem right — both for him and for our nation. There is no doubt that Obama is frustrated and Washington is hopelessly gridlocked. For their part, the media are already obsessed with the 2016 presidential marathon while “Hope and Change” posters are objects of Photoshop satire.
Additionally, between the repeated assurances that “I’m not running again” lies a hammer that could allow a future president to break through the walls of partisanship that are paralyzing and polarizing our nation. And that message is: “Since I do not have to run for reelection, I can speak, govern, and act in the best interests of our nation without political retribution.”
Consider if future presidents, once elected, never again had to appear on the ballot. Such a concept would revolutionize and modernize the office because on Inauguration Day, the President would be a “lame duck.” (Maybe a new, more complimentary phrase should be invented.)
Obviously, such a radical change would require an amendment to the Constitution, but the national political benefits would be wide, deep, and timely. The absence of a looming reelection campaign could inspire future presidents to be stronger leaders and more willing to make tough, unpopular decisions that could improve our national well-being in the long term. And anyway, six uninterrupted years as president would be nearly the equivalent of two four-year terms — a reelection campaign invariably consumes two years of the president’s valuable time and distracts the nation.
Crucially, the president would not be completely immune from election cycle politics, because one six-year term would encompass two midterm elections. Therefore, a six-year president would still govern with many political restraints because his/her name would be on the ballot twice, albeit in invisible ink.
You could also expect midterm elections to take on greater significance, passion, and urgency, serving as de facto presidential elections with increased participation. Voters in effect would have the same power as today — keeping or giving the president’s party total control, split control, or no control over the House and Senate.
However, the outcome of the midterm elections would be perceived as a check against the president, or a sign of approval — exactly the same as now, but with more “gusto” during one six-year presidential term.
Incumbent presidents have a 68.7% chance of winning reelection
Back in 2011, when Mark McKinnon and I co-authored a piece titled “12 Reasons Why Obama Wins in 2012,” our No. 1 reason was the “power of incumbency.” We had solid math on our side.
In 2011, Obama, as an incumbent president, had a 67.7% chance of being reelected. Now, after his 2012 victory, the next incumbent has increased the winning odds to 68.7% and the new math looks like this:
In the last 57 U.S. presidential elections, 32 have involved incumbents; 22 of those candidates have won.
Which leads one to ask, “Just how unfair are those odds against any presidential challenger?”
Second terms are historically difficult on the president and the nation
And perhaps even cursed?
Just 11 months into President Obama’s second term and he seems to have fallen into the same trap as many of his predecessors.
Each of the last four two-term presidents — George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, and Richard Nixon — had extremely tough second terms. Each had different circumstances which led to difficult times, but the outcomes were very similar: Falling approval rates and increased ineffectiveness in office.
At this writing, it looks like Obama is experiencing his own second-term curse.
Everything is faster these days, and burnout even quicker
This past week on The Daily Beast, Dean Obeidallah wrote a piece titled “Obama Really Seems to Be Looking Forward to the End of His Presidency.” Seriously? With three more long years to go?
The truth is our world now moves at lightning speed causing everyone to have shorter attention spans and to be bored faster with products, fads and people.
Therefore, “six and done” would be a good move for our nation especially if we elect a leader who cared more about solving the nation’s long-term problems then keeping his or her party in power on Capitol Hill.
I can dream, can’t I?
Cross-posted at the Daily Beast