Politics

Should presidents have term limits?

Reuters
WRITTEN BY
03/16/22
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Fact Box

  • Instituting presidential term limits for the first time in US history, the Twenty-second Amendment of the US constitution was 'proposed by the US Congress on March 24, 1947, and was ratified on February 27, 1951.'
  • History.com explains that the US’ first Constitution, The Articles of Confederation, did not stipulate a chief executive position--term-limit or not--because the Articles' framers 'worried about creating another king, à la George III, with whom they'd just severed ties.'
  • In 2021, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law enabling him to serve two more terms as Russia's leader, 'allowing him to potentially hold onto power until 2036.' In 2018, the National People's Congress in China voted to remove presidential term limits entirely, paving the way for President Xi Jinping to rule China indefinitely. 
  • A 2013 Gallup Poll revealed that 75% of US adults would vote for a law that 'would limit the number of terms which members of Congress and the US Senate can serve.'

Joni (No)

Both the first and last to defy the long-running tradition of two-term presidencies, FDR's four terms make a compelling case for the repeal of term limits. 

Desiring stability and proven competence after the Great Depression and before the US' inevitable entry into WWII, voters found sound reason behind FDR's intentional disregard of presidential etiquette, and he was a shoo-in for his 3rd and 4th terms. 

This was possible because prior to the Twenty-second Amendment, the two-term limit was mostly considered an unwritten rule which—though popularly attributed to President Washington's example—was only one of several reasons for his declining a 3rd term. It can be reasonably assumed that Washington saw enough security in the Constitution's (still effective) system of checks and balances to forgo the legal formalization of his example. And interestingly, four other presidents had tried and failed to defy Washington's informal example before FDR's presidency. 

These circumstances provide some assurance against the fear of democratic tyranny, considering that unrestricted reelection was both permissible and unabused in the 164 years before FDR's (by most measures, successful) latter terms.

It's also worth considering the careers of our founding fathers following the creation of the Constitution--many of them in the legislative and judicial branches would have been cut unjustly short by the amended form of that document. If much of the early success of the non-executive branches is owed to a lack of term limits, then it would follow that the executive branch would reap a similar benefit.   

In the wise words of founding father Roger Sherman, 'Nothing renders government more unstable than a frequent change of the persons that administer it.' 


Bre (Yes)

Limiting a president's time in power has no real downside. A system that ensures regular change promotes more consistent and balanced progress. 

Since the United States implemented a two-term maximum for presidents' four-year stays in office in 1947, no real effort to repeal it has ever gained significant momentum, as the merits of this proven system are clear. Historically, when leaders attempt to circumvent these protections, it provokes societal conflicts and negatively impacts democracy. Unsurprisingly, presidents seeking to circumvent term limits have been linked to corruption.

After decades of research and discussion, it's widely understood among scholars that these laws serve to prevent backsliding in democracy and protect against corruption. With this safeguard, authoritarian rule is made less accessible, personalism and power abuse are constrained, and alternation of parties is promoted. Actions to remove these policies are counter-productive in the pursuit and preservation of democracy.

Notably, presidents nominate supreme court judges, whose terms have no set time limit, making the impact of their decisions much longer-lasting than their presidency. Without term limits, one president's objectives could influence a disproportionate number of SCOTUS elections. A regulated turnover of leadership facilitates a fairer, more democratic, and functional pattern of government overall.

There are countless opportunities for former presidents to continue making a difference, using their position of public prominence for the greater good without staying in office. Whereas a president who refuses to step down, or wishes to rewrite laws in favor of a personal agenda, appears to possess self-guided and untrustworthy motives, indicating the very type of unchecked power these laws aim to contain.

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