Single-term presidency

WITH constitutional amendments the talk of the land today, I would like to propose one that is almost certain to lessen politics as a basis for decisionmaking. My proposed amendment, first of all, would repeal the 22nd (limiting the president to two terms), which was ratified in 1951 as supposedly the last word on the subject. In retrospect, the 22nd Amendment was too shallow, leaving untouched the basic structural disorders of the American presidency. Second, my amendment would limit the chief executive to a single term.

The nub of the problem of the presidency was perceived as far back as the constitutional convention of 1787. Some delegates who did not get their way brought forth the rationale that human activity was pretty much the same from generation to generation: Individuals attaining the highest political post in the land are likely to want to hold on to it as long as possible. Chief executives would spend the first term campaigning for the second, thereby depriving the nation of their undivided attention. Ben Franklin had a three-pronged solution to this dilemma: a plural executive, an unpaid position, and no second terms.

Only the last appears likely to arouse public support today, but its practical effect would be enormous. Freed of the fear of flying in a re-election , the president would have ample time to plan and implement legislative programs within the prescribed period. Second, given the shorter term, power might well flow to Congress, with a cadre of senior members capable of providing continuity from one administration to the next.

Single-term presidents would not have to endure the trauma of unsuccessful bids for re-election - a condition that can last for years, thereby limiting useful service to the nation. In fact, only three one-term presidents defeated in their re-election bids were noteworthy in their post-White House years: Andrew Johnson, who became a United States senator; John Quincy Adams, whose nearly 17 years in the House of Representatives were distinguished; and Herbert Hoover, who made his mark on government commissions after 1932.

Chief executives would find it difficult to give up the trappings of the Oval Office after only four years. But our forefathers had another way of looking at the matter of public service. According to Franklin, ''in free governments the rulers are the servants and the people their superiors and sovereigns. For the former therefore to return among the latter was not to degrade, but promote them - and it would be imposing an unreasonable burden on them, to keep them always in a state of servitude.''

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