The second term curse

9 Nov

Now that President Obama has won another term – he faces a challenge with deep roots in political history:

The so-called “second-term curse.”

It is almost a truism that second terms are less successful than first terms.

Franklin D. Roosevelt lost his hold on Congress with his 1937 plan to pack the Supreme Court.

Ronald Reagan faced the 1986 Iran-contra scandal.

Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998 over Monica Lewinsky.

Richard Nixon resigned to avoid impeachment in 1974.

Even George Washington had angry mobs surrounding his house in Philadelphia to denounce him for the Jay Treaty with Britain dealing with the aftermath of the Revolutionary War.

They wanted him to side with France.

But despite all that, most second-term presidents also have done some great things.

There’s several explanations for the second-term curse.

Presidents try to push their best ideas when they first take office, often leaving them without anything for the second.

They also select the best members of the White House staff or cabinet when they first take office.

Then when they leave their successors are often not as good.

Second-term presidents are also called lame ducks, spending much of their time wrestling with ambitious would-be successors – from both parties.

So why bother?

It’s never all bad.

Dwight Eisenhower started his second term with no new ideas, and he lost key cabinet officers.

He was embarrassed when a U-2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960 and Nikita Khrushchev ruined a Paris summit meeting in response.

But Eisenhower sent troops to Little Rock in 1957 to keep the governor from sinking court-ordered school desegregation.

Most importantly, Eisenhower kept the peace with the Soviet Union, an accomplishment hardly predictable in the ’50s.

For Bill Clinton, his second term brought the first balanced budget in years.

He gained international respect for forcing the Serbs to halt a genocidal campaign in Kosovo without putting NATO troops on the ground.

President Bush didn’t reach many of his legislative goals — privatizing Social Security, liberalizing immigration and overhauling the tax code.

But he did win a large increase in spending on AIDS treatment and prevention in Africa and a modest stimulus measure in 2008.

And his most substantial achievement was the Troubled Assets Relief Program, a $700 billion program to rescue banks caught in the subprime mortgage mess.

And let’s not forget he led the nation through the dark days following 9/11.

Nixon achieved the Paris Peace Accords and American troops were withdrawn from Vietnam and prisoners of war released.

In the Middle East, his administration helped end the Arab-Israeli war.

Nixon is also credited with helping open China to the world.

For Reagan, his troubles of his second term were offset by the 1986 tax law, which closed loopholes and used the savings to lower tax rates, and his arms control agreements with Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union.

So Obama still may have greatness ahead.

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