(New York, New York) – The “Brunch” is on the road this weekend in New York City for a Yankees game and some political observations. While in the Big Apple I listened to what has become one of my favorite radio program, “The John Batchelor Show.” Batchelor broadcasts from WABC Radio, but is syndicated nationwide, www.johnbatchelorshow.com. While I don’t always agree with his viewpoint, his show is extremely well-researched, analytical, scholarly and spontaneous. This week he talked about the pitfalls and potholes of second-term Presidents, so I thought I would expound.
“Four More Years?” – Between Benghazi, the IRS mess and now the controversy of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s release in the Taliban trade, the second term of President Obama is a lot rockier than the first. Bachelor pondered this week – and I paraphrase - “Why do Presidents get credit for what happens in their first term, but blamed for everything that happens in their second term?” Sometimes – as we’ll see – some Presidential troubles are self-made, while others happen from largely external forces. In Obama’s case, the Bergdahl case is in many ways self-made, while the IRS scandal may truly have started by rogue agents outside of the purview of the White House (which then failed to reign the scandal in fast enough). We’ll see.
“Bush II” – The Presidency of George W. Bush was largely bifurcated by the “Second-term Curse,” if you want to call it that. Bush II had wide public support after 9-11, and the initial incursion into Iraq. But the lack of discovery of weapons of mass destruction eventually turned the public tide against the war, by his second term. The mistake may be largely due to poor intelligence – gathered in his, and previous administrations - and it certainly was influenced by a cagey Saddam Hussein, who did have and use WMD in previous years – where he disposed of it, no one is certain. Again, lots of external forces. On the other hand, the botched federal handling of Hurricane Katrina was largely a self-made mistake, (as was the equally botched handling, by local and state leaders in New Orleans and Louisiana).
“Lady With the Blue Dress On” – Bill Clinton’s Presidency has some parallels to the others. He struggled his first two years, and then found his sea legs. The fact that a Democratic President joined with a Republican-led Congress and passed a balanced federal budget for the first time in decades remains a remarkable accomplishment. On the other hand, the Monica Lewinski scandal and impeachment in his second term, was largely a creature of Clinton’s own creation. Yes, Republicans may have overreached beyond what the public supported, but Clinton’s own actions are what started it all.
“Bush I” – Yes I know, George H.W. Bush didn’t serve a second term. But if you divide his administration in half, you’ll get my drift. The economic expansion from the Reagan years was still a benefit, but it was beginning to slow. Then, the U.S. went to war with Iraq, after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. Bush cobbled together the widest international consensus, and bipartisan support at home since World War II. Victorious in war, his popularity was even higher then President Reagan’s. But then recession hit and the economy faltered even more and Bush was voted out. It just goes to show how politics remains a, “What have you done for me lately?” business.
“The Gipper, Nixon and LBJ!” – As we go further back into history, I don’t need to belabor the point. Ronald Reagan’s first term was marked by surging economic boom, and expansion, and the rebuilding of U.S. military might. His second term became mired in Iran-Contra. President Nixon’s first term may be best remembered by opening diplomacy with Russia and China; his second (and unfinished) term, sunk by Watergate (again a case of a self-inflicted mess that was entirely preventable). President Johnson, in truth, should get a lot more (or at least equal) credit with the Kennedy’s for making Civil Rights legislation happen in his partial first term; but the expansion of the unpopular Vietnam War in his second term ended any hope for reelection.
“What All This Means” – I wonder if the two-term Presidency limit is a curse. It seems the earnestness of wanting to do the right thing the first term, is supplanted by the arrogance of the second term. So often politicians – and this happens at the state and local level, too – take the second term election as a mandate, or a public blessing, “to do what ever we want.” It’s almost as if they believe the second term gives them carte blanche to do as they wish, when of course it does not. I think term-limits also create a sense of false urgency, to get certain things done because, “it’s our last chance, and time is running out.” Second (and final) terms also put more pressure to focus on legacy, rather than legislation. As they near the exits, too many politicians are asking the question: “How will I be remembered?” rather than, “Have I done anything worth remembering?” It’s an important distinction!
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