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by Christopher Chantrill
March 05, 2006 at 7:33 am
WE ARE AT THAT stage in the political cycle when the supporters of the president, like Pejman Yousefzadeh, or even critics-with-a-book-out like Bruce Bartlett, start mourning that the 22nd Amendmentthe one that limits the President of the United States to two termsis severely cramping his power to get things done.
And well may they mourn. The glorious hopes of every political cycle inevitably evaporate into despair as events, dear boy, events conspire to prevent the president from changing the world. If only we could have got one more Big Push, the generals moan, we could have shoved the presidents agenda over the top.
Americas political philosopher, Lee Harris, in an elegiac piece for Presidents Day, A Father without a Son, reminded us why we have a 22nd Amendment. It is because President Roosevelt violated the unwritten rule of presidential succession. In 1940 he ran for a third term.
Back in 1787, before we elected our first president, political opinion was sharply divided on the question of a chief executive. Americans knew, after the failure of the Articles of Confederation, that something stronger than a purely legislative government was needed. So the Constitutions Article II declared that The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. But how, worried men like Thomas Jefferson, would we ever make the President go away?
After all, Jefferson was fully aware that the first President was going to be George Washington. Everyone knew thatjust as everyone knew that the Presidency would remain in Washingtons hands for as long as he wished to hang on to it. Washington, elected once, was in essence elected for life.
Fortunately, Washington had no son, so even if he had stayed in office until he died, the Washington dynasty would have died with him. But Washington determined that He would not die in office; instead, he would be elected for two terms, and then he would not run again.
This noble renunciation of power served as a brake, a gentlemens agreement, that restrained the ambitions of presidents for nearly 150 years.
It was not until 1940 that Franklin Delano Roosevelt, after 8 years of failing to lead the nation out of the Great Depression, decided that he needed one more Big Push.
After FDR had broken the gentlemens agreement the nation was forced into an act of national hygiene. Congress passed in 1947 and the states ratified in 1951 the 22nd Amendment.
The great problem of the nation in 2006 not a lack of presidential power. It is the encrusted privilege and patronage of the welfare state, the government entitlements like Social Security and Medicare over which the Democratic filibuster guards with a passion equal to the old Southern filibuster of the 1950s. Yet at the height of his power in the months after reelection in 2004 the president was unable to get traction on Social Security reform. How would repeal of the 22nd Amendment have made any difference?
It is not political power that gets things done; it is the power of ideas. Rudy Giuliani was able to bring New York City back from the brink of meltdown in the 1990s because of the heavy lifting done by conservative thinkers, as Fred Siegel shows in The Prince of the City. It was James Q. Wilson and George Kelling who developed the broken windows policing that Bill Bratton implemented, first in New Yorks subways and then on its streets. David Osbornes Reinventing Government showed how state and local governments could do more by scrapping rule- and input-driven bureaucracies in favor of stressing outcomes and accountability. George Gilders Wealth and Poverty showed that progressive taxation functioned as a tollgate on the road to the middle class, and Charles Murrays Losing Ground set the stage for welfare reform. If Americans arent ready for Social Security reform it is because we havent persuaded them.
When conservatives have won the next battle of ideas the question of presidential power or of the 22nd Amendment will not matter. Just as the old Southern filibuster was routed by the civil rights revolution of the early 1960s, todays welfare state filibuster will come to its deserved, inglorious end not because of presidential arm-twisting but because of the power of ideas.
What we can do with the presidents political power is cut taxes, cut, and cut again. And it just so happens that Senator John McCain, who opposed the presidents tax cuts in 2001, 2003, 2004, and 2005, is supporting the Tax Relief Extension Reconciliation Act. I wonder why?
For those Republicans still hankering after repeal of the 22nd Amendment, think of this. Absent the 22nd Amendment who can doubt that President Clinton, no gentleman and no George Washington, would have run for president again and again and finally handed off the presidency to his daughter?
Buy his Road to the Middle Class.
But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie
that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison
Civil Societya complex welter of intermediate institutions, including businesses, voluntary associations, educational institutions, clubs, unions, media, charities, and churchesbuilds, in turn, on the family, the primary instrument by which people are socialized into their culture and given the skills that allow them to live in broader society and through which the values and knowledge of that society are transmitted across the generations.
Francis Fukuyama, Trust
Tear down theory, poetic systems... No more rules, no more models... Genius conjures up
rather than learns... Victor Hugo
César Graña, Bohemian versus Bourgeois
We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.
E. G. West, Education and the State
When we began first to preach these things, the people appeared as awakened from the sleep of agesthey seemed to see for the first time that they were responsible beings, and that a refusal to use the means appointed was a damning sin.
Finke, Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-1990
When we received Christ, Phil added, all of a sudden we now had a rule book to go by, and when we had problems the preacher was right there to give us the answers.
James M. Ault, Jr., Spirit and Flesh
A writer who says that there are no truths, or that all truth is merely relative, is asking you not to believe him. So dont.
Roger Scruton, Modern Philosophy
As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her interventions in the public arena is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable...
[1.] protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death; [2.] recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family... [3.] the protection of the right of parents to educate their children.
Pope Benedict XVI, Speech to European Peoples Party, 2006
At first, we thought [the power of the West] was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity.
David Aikman, Jesus in Beijing
But the only religions that have survived are those which support property and the family.
Thus the outlook for communism, which is both anti-property and anti-family, (and also anti-religion), is not promising.
F.A. Hayek, The Fatal Conceit
Conservatism is the philosophy of society. Its ethic is fraternity and its characteristic is authority the non-coercive social persuasion which operates in a family or a community. It says we should....
Danny Kruger, On Fraternity
Families helped each other putting up homes and barns. Together, they built churches, schools, and common civic buildings. They collaborated to build roads and bridges. They took pride in being free persons, independent, and self-reliant; but the texture of their lives was cooperative and fraternal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism