The 1-Term, 6-Year Presidency

Doug Schoen and Patrick Caddell, both of whom have worked for Democratic presidents, wrote recently in The Washington Post that President Obama should forgo seeking a second term and focus on being a brilliant one-term president. They made an excellent point, and it got me to thinking, why not create a one-term, six-year presidency for America?

Granted, such a change would require amending the Constitution, but it would also lead to better presidencies and a stronger union.

Every human being who acquires great power will eventually become consumed with keeping it. This explains why it’s a forgone conclusion that American presidents seek a second term. From the moment that Barack Obama became president-elect in November 2008, every decision he made was to protect his chances to earn a second term in 2012. This is not to suggest that Obama does not put the interests of America first; however, politics and governing simply don’t mix. In today’s political world the presidential campaign is a near two-year process, so if the incumbant wants a second term, he must plan for another campaign almost immediately.

But no matter when the re-election campaign is set to begin, the underlying problem remains the same — the president makes decisions based on how it will play in “swing” states. Indeed, since American presidencies are only deemed successful if they are extended by the voters, the president is forced to devote time thinking and politicking towards the re-election effort. This process and mind-set makes for poor decision-making; and it has not served the republic well.

In their op-ed, Schoen and Caddell suggested that Obama could win re-election, but that the campaign itself would require such divisiveness that the president would no longer be able to do the one big thing he has always wanted — unite the country beyond its current red state, blue state factions. They argue that by not seeking a second term, President Obama would be able to forge consensus and that the Republicans would be forced to play nice because the president would have seized the high road.

Even though Schoen and Caddell make valid points, it is safe to assume that the president and his advisers dismissed this idea out-of-hand. That’s assuming they spent even enough time thinking about the idea to deem it ridiculous.  The fact is that before the administration achieved anything at all, the decision to seek another term was already made. And that’s the whole problem.

We should eliminate the current system of two, 4-year presidential terms and establish a one-term, 6-year presidency with no option for additional terms.

Four years is really not sufficient time to really change anything, so we should give the president more time to bring about his or her vision for America. This would give the chief executive time to truly grow into the presidency, and it would be lead to fewer presidential elections. Since presidential elections cost more and more each cycle, and since the media is obsessed with presidential politics, fewer presidential elections is not a bad thing.

Since the president would be barred from seeking additional terms under this new system, he or she would be free to govern without constantly thinking about how decisions will play in the next election.

Critics of this proposal may charge that there is value in placing the president before the voters for a re-election, to prevent the chief executive from making long-term decisions that are not in alignment with the public. The counter point is that our current system only partially addresses this anyway. Assuming a president decides against re-election early in his or her term, the chief executive would still be free to make any decision with no fear of facing voters again.

In the end, voters should not be the check and balance on their president; that role must be played by the Congress. The legislative branch has broad powers to keep the president in check: Congress controls the budget; the Senate must confirm judges and treaties; the House has the power to declare war or impeach the president.

The majority of Congress is up for election every two years, so during a 6-year presidency, voters would have two opportunities to voice their wishes to the president. Voters would simply throw the president’s party out of Congress if they didn’t like the direction of the country, as they currently do now in the “mid-year” election of the 4-year presidency.

Our current system for electing and re-electing presidents is flawed, but there is a better way forward. A one-term, 6-year presidency would be in the best interests of the people and the republic. It’s time for a public debate about the length and term of the American presidency.