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Opening Arguments

No limit keep 'em

I've been waiting for somebody to bring this up, and a New York University history professor does the honors:

Nor does Obama have to fear the voters, which might be the scariest problem of all. If he chooses, he could simply ignore their will. And if the people wanted him to serve another term, why shouldn’t they be allowed to award him one?

That was the argument of our first president, who is often held up as the father of term limits. In fact, George Washington opposed them. “I can see no propriety in precluding ourselves from the service of any man who, in some great emergency, shall be deemed universally most capable of serving the public,” Washington wrote in a much-quoted letter to the Marquis de Lafayette.

Washington stepped down after two terms, establishing a pattern that would stand for more than a century. But he made clear that he was doing so because the young republic was on solid footing, not because his service should be limited in any way.

[. . .]

It’s time to put that power back where it belongs. When Ronald Reagan was serving his second term, some Republicans briefly floated the idea of removing term limits so he could run again. The effort went nowhere, but it was right on principle. Barack Obama should be allowed to stand for re election just as citizens should be allowed to vote for — or against — him. Anything less diminishes our leaders and ourselves.

This might not be exactly the right time to bring this issue up, professor. Everybody -- well, mostly everybldy -- is so disgusted with the Washington government complex that they're going the other way. Calls for congressional term limits are stronger than they've ever been. Instead of that, you want to add the pesidency to the list of "can never get rid of them" professionals?

It's part of the rightwing paranoids' worst fever dream that Obama's supporters will find a way to keep him in office after eight years, just as the left had a paranoid fever over Reagan supporters. Remove partisanship from the issue, though, and it's an interesting idea to toy around with. The professor is right that Washington was against term limits. But his decision to stick to two terms pretty much set the standard until FDR came along. He'd already screwed up the domestic scene after two terms, so his extra stay didn't do too much more damage. And you could make a good argument that it's a pretty good idea topo stick with the leader you've got in the middle of a worldwide war for survival.

I admit to having mixed feelings. It's especially annoying at the regional level, where we can't vote for the incumbent for sheriff or governor, for example, after two terms. Why shouldn't they be among our choices? But you can also make a case for mandatory political churn as a way to bring in fresh ideas and prevent entrenched power and the abuses that can go with it.

Exit question: Since Washingtonis just going to keep growing in size and influence, does it really matter all that much anymore who we stick at the top?