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Sciences

From December 2010: Call for a Three-Year Presidency

Barack Obama looks tired.  Very tired, and gray.  In fact, so do most presidents after they’ve been in office for awhile.  Jesse Ventura, the professional wrestler-turned-governor, famously said that he would never want to be president because all those guys go into the job looking good and come out looking terrible.

 

When thinking about politicians who stayed in the game too long for one election too many, George H.W. Bush – the elder – readily comes to mind. In his vice presidential debate against Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, Bush displayed a magnificent burst of energy not equaled before or since in a debate of that nature. In 1988, his voice resonating with indignation, Bush denounced all modern-day liberals as his opponent, Michael Dukakis, stood by rather idly and virtually devoid of emotion.  But by 1992, after four years at the helm, Bush was simply all tuckered out.  He was so lethargic that a cartoon version of the debates easily could have portrayed him sporting toothpicks propped against his eye sockets to keep his eyelids from slamming shut.

 

Our Founding Fathers, bless their brilliant design, could not have imagined that in the age of television, presidents would not even be allowed to yawn.  Nowadays, our country’s leaders cannot even break a sweat or have a hair out of place, much less come down with a headcold.  It is a far cry from 1920 – the last year of Woodrow Wilson’s presidency –  when he was virtually incapacitated and there were reliable accounts that his wife, Edith, essentially ran the country.  Nor did Americans realize that the iconic Franklin Roosevelt was paralyzed from the waist down and was confined to a wheelchair most of the time.  In Wilson’s and Roosevelt’s days, there was no television, no Internet, and certainly no cell phone camera to capture any compromising moments and post them on YouTube.

 

In this modern political age, then – when being telegenic is a presidential prerequisite, and peculiar-looking fellows like Abraham Lincoln, or extremely diminutive ones like James Madison could never get elected – does our model of a four-year presidency make sense anymore?  After all, how can presidents hold the world’s most stressful job day in, day out for four whole years, and yet be expected to look as relaxed as if they had been basking in the sun on a tropical beach the whole time, laying on a hammock and sipping a drink through a coconut?

 

If a four-year stretch is too long, then, how short should the presidential term be? One year?  No, that doesn’t work, we already tried it. Before the Constitution was written, in 1787, the United States had operated for seven unsuccessful years under the Articles of Confederation, and had seven presidents of the United States before George Washington,  each of who served one year.  And how do we know that system didn’t work?  For one thing, George Washington is heralded as our first president everywhere – from Jeopardy to Wikipedia – and hardly anyone has even heard of the seven who technically were our first presidents. They were John Hanson, Elias Boudinot,  Thomas Mifflin, Richard Henry Lee, Nathaniel Gordman, Arthur St. Claire, and Cyrus Griffin – need I say more?

How about a two-year term, then?  Still too short.  Presidents need a year or so to get their programs underway, and it is rare for their policies to yield any meaningful results, positive or negative, in such a fleeting period of time.  If a term were only two years, the most popular presidents in recent memory, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, probably never would have been reelected.

 

A three-year term, however, is as close to ideal as possible.  Presidents can do a lot in three years. Sure, it’s not an even number, but why does everything have to be in twos or fours, anyway?  Imagine if Obama were up for reelection next year.  He would really have to work overtime to turn his image completely around.  And what if he did so and was reelected?  In that case, Obama would head into his second White House stay with 25% less wear and tear than if the had worked a four-year term. If Americans had that kind of reduction in their workweek, they’d be going to work from about 10-5:30 Monday through Thursday, and have a long weekend every week. Why, that’s almost as good as a workweek as in Greece!  Surely, one less year of mileage on a president would bode well as far as having an effective second term – especially since that second term would only be another three-year one.

 

And what if Obama did so well in his second term that he might want to run yet again?  Should we increase term limits to three?  Why not?  After all, the candidate would have to be considered rather outstanding to accomplish the presidential hat trick. Only one candidate in history has ever even attempted to run for a third term, so it wouldn’t exactly be an everyday occurrence. Who was that candidate, by the way?  Franklin Roosevelt: he was elected president four times, in fact, before the 22nd Amendment limited terms to two.  But in today’s aesthetically superficial world, Roosevelt – that guy in the wheelchair – wouldn’t even have made it past his party’s primary.

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