Hillary and the 22nd Amendment

Sen. Hillary Clinton has campaigned strongly on the theme that she is the most experienced candidate for president, “ready on day one” to handle the challenges of the world’s toughest job. As the New York Times says, “She has cast herself, instead, as a first lady like no other: a full partner to her husband in his administration, and, she says, all the stronger and more experienced for her ‘eight years with a front-row seat on history.’” I think she has a point. I’ve said for months that she can credibly claim to be the best-prepared presidential candidate since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940: she spent eight years in the White House, seeing the way politics and policies work from the eye of the storm. I accept that, more than any other First Lady, she was heavily involved in both policy and politics.

But then that raises a problem: If she does have eight years’ experience in the White House, and if we are once again going to get two presidents for the price of one, doesn’t that violate the spirit of the 22nd Amendment? After the FDR experience, Americans decided that we never again wanted one person to serve as president for that long. Indeed, it’s surprising just how fast they came to that conclusion. Roosevelt, we’re told, was a beloved president, the man who ended the Great Depression and won the war, who died before his final victory was complete. Yet within two years of his death Congress had passed the 22nd Amendment, and within another four years three-fourths of the states had ratified it. That’s how strongly people felt that we should never again let a president, no matter how great or how admired, serve more than eight years in the most powerful position in the world.

Today the Clintons campaign side by side, hailing the success of their eight years in the White House and promising to “get America back to the solutions business,” back to “the best economy that our country has seen in a generation.” There’s talk of “another co-presidency.” Just note how many news stories these days refer to “the Clintons” and their campaign and their policy agenda. There are no such references to “the Obamas” or “the McCains.”

Legally, of course, Hillary Rodham Clinton has not previously served as president. She is no less eligible for election to the presidency than was George W. Bush, the son of a president. But the intent of the 22nd Amendment, the spirit of a presidential term limit, is to ensure that no one person holds that vast power for so long. When the federal government and the presidency were vastly less powerful than today, George Washington thought that a republic should not be led by one man for more than eight years. His example set a standard for the American republic until that republic encountered the powerlust of Franklin D. Roosevelt, after which we made George Washington’s example a legal rule.

In weighing the candidates this year, we should consider whether “co-presidents” should be entitled to four terms in the Oval Office rather than the prescribed two.

NOTE: Click here for some reflections on governing teams Bill and Hillary Clinton, George and Lurleen Wallace, and Ma and Pa Ferguson.