When I read New York University history professor Jonathan Zimmerman’s Washington Post op-ed calling for the end of presidential term limits, I knew I wasn’t reading the words of someone whose life’s work it is to repeal the 22nd Amendment.
What Professor Zimmerman wants, in the guise of academic pretension, is for Barack Obama to be President for Life. Consider what Zimmerman wrote in the WaPo after Obama was elected in 2008:
Wherever you look, it would seem, the world is celebrating Barack Obama's landslide win in Tuesday's US presidential election. To people around the globe, Obama's victory signals a new American willingness to converse with the world instead of imposing our will upon it.
At the same time, though, Obama also represents a new kind of American pre-eminence. Say it loud, my fellow Americans, and say it proud: we just became the first majority-white democracy on this planet to anoint a black person as national leader.
For good measure, let me add what Zimmerman wrote in his concluding paragraph:
During the presidency of George W. Bush, America was vilified for its smug arrogance and duplicity: by invading Iraq, especially, we lost our moral stewardship over a fractured and unstable globe. In choosing Barack Obama, however, the United States proved that it can still can (sic) serve as an exemplar for the rest of the world.
Those are the words of one someone desperately clinging to the boat called Hope & Change which is currently navigating waters that will neither calm nor recede. Those aren’t the words of someone who wanted George W. Bush to seek a third term. (UPDATE: I may have jumped the gun here. As I've since learned, as I explain in this blog post, Prof. Zimmerman in fact argued against terms limits even for President Bush.)
Personally, I am agnostic on the question of term limits — presidential or otherwise. Let’s look due north at my home and native land. In Canada, Stephen Harper has been thrice elected Prime Minister. As long as Harper wants to remain leader of the Conservative Party and as long as Canadians are prepared to keep electing Conservatives to the House of Commons, then Harper will continue to reside at 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa.
But I’m keenly aware we aren’t in Canada. This isn’t a parliamentary democracy where the legislative and executive branches are concentrated in the House of Commons. So unlike Harper, Obama does not have option to renew his lease at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue past January 20, 2017. That is unless two-thirds of both Houses of Congress and at least 38 state legislatures say otherwise and they won’t be saying otherwise anytime soon.
The only way President Obama could run for a third term would be through nefarious means. Given Obama’s disregard for the Constitution where it concerns recess appointments and delays to various provisions in Obamacare, who can say that on any given Tuesday afternoon that Obama might walk into the White House Press Room to announce he would be seeking a third term. And who would stop him?
Yet consider what would happen if President Obama were to seek a third term.
First, Obama would create a constitutional crisis. Articles of impeachment would be sure to follow. Of course, there is no guarantee such proceedings would succeed. Although Obama would blame Republicans (as he always does), I suspect that many Democrats would not only abandon him but repudiate him altogether.
This brings me to my second point. It would create a civil war in the Democratic Party. Do not under any circumstances underestimate the ambitions of Hillary Clinton. For four years, Hillary gritted her teeth and smiled while inside the Obama Administration. Now she’s gritting her teeth outside the Obama Administration. If Obama runs for another term then Hillary, who is nearing 70, could be gritting her gums. Hillary wants to be President more than life itself. That means breaking the glass ceiling even if Obama is still standing on top of it. Whatever the outcome, once the glass shatters, the Democratic Party will be wounded and those wounds will not heal for a very long time.
Although it might be hard for conservatives to fathom, let us also consider that there are elements within the Democratic Party that believe Obama is insufficiently left-wing for not implementing single-payer, universal health care (even more so with the disastrous launch of Obamacare), not giving amnesty to illegal immigrants by stopping deportations and not reining in Wall Street by breaking up the banks. These failings are viewed as acts of betrayal in some corners of the Democratic Party and if Obama seeks a third term then he could see a challenge from the left most likely in the form of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.
But let’s suppose Obama survives impeachment hearings as well as Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren and is once again the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee in 2016. Then one of two things would happen. He could become the first President since FDR to be elected to more than two terms in office. Or he could lose.
And if he were to lose then conservatives would rejoice. It would the happiest day to be a conservative since Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter. It would represent a repudiation of Obama in both style and substance. Although the end of term limits could present Obama with yet another opportunity to run for the White House, it would likely be a repudiation he would take to his grave.
Above all else, it would also represent an opportunity to reverse the damage Obama has done and restore America to its proper place both at home and around the world. It is for these reasons that I would like to see Barack Obama run for President in 2016.