Both the U.S. Congress and the states passed the 22nd Amendment of the Constitution after President Franklin D. Roosevelt served for an unprecedented four terms. That amendment now limits each president to two terms of four years each.
The president is the most powerful elected official in the United States. The president has veto power that requires one vote less than a two-thirds majority in both houses to be overridden.The president likewise controls a vast bureaucracy that runs every aspect of foreign affairs, military, intelligence, domestic and economic policy.
The 22nd Amendment curtails the duration that power, but it sometimes also has an unfortunate effect on the political climate of our federal government: A new president, from the first day of his first term, begins campaigning for a second term. Often, the new administration avoids unpopular but necessary actions because of their probably effect on the president's chances for re-election.
So why not limit the president to one six-year term? This would take many political pressures off the president as unforeseen problems and challenges arise that might require breaking election promises. Remember George H.W. Bush's "Read my lips. No new taxes?" He had to raise taxes for the good of the country, but it likely cost him re-election.
Had the elder Bush not been encumbered by considerations for re-election, he might have had the leverage with the voters to explain why he did what he did. Instead, when challenged on this, he just shrugged with embarrassment and hoped the public would forget all about it. Bill Clinton and the Democrats would not let anyone forget.
While we are considering the office of the president, why not do something with the vice president? There would be no sense letting the vice president sit around for six years snoring on the Senate dais, waiting for something to happen to the president. The vice president should be given a real job.
A constitutional amendment could easily appoint the vice president to be head of the president's cabinet, or chief of staff, or, if qualified, Secretary of State or Secretary of Defense. The appointment need not be subject to Senate approval, and the candidate for president would have to state prior to being installed the cabinet post he had in mind for his running mate. As a bonus, at the end of six years, we also might have a well-qualified candidate to succeed the president.
Finally, imagine the relief on both parties: less wear and tear on candidates, the press and the public of only having to endure the presidential primaries, campaigning, political conventions and hoopla that accompany them all only once every six years.
So, as the 22nd Amendment loosened the stranglehold of powerful presidential incumbents, a single-term, six-year constitutional restriction would remove some of the poisonous partisanship from the office of the president. It would allow the incumbent to rise above purely political considerations that lower-ranked, unlimited-tenure officials must always endure and acknowledge. If accompanied with a real change in the role of vice president, it would result in the gainful employment of a high official, who currently does not do much. This may be an idea whose time has come.