Hillary and Term Limits

George Reisman has an interesting post today regarding Hillary, Bill and the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Reisman raises the point that although the letter of the Amendment would not be violated on the off-chance Hillary became president, the fact that Bill would be there (again) and be her confidant and adviser (to one extent or another) raises the issue of the intent of the Amendment. In my view it raises the discussion regarding whether or not the 22nd Amendment is really a necessary or a legitimate mechanism in a representative republic. After all, the amendment does not limit the powers of the federal government per se. Rather, it is a limitation via an amendment to the will of the people to freely elect whomever they choose. Thus is (and was) the argument some put forth to repeal the 22nd Amendment. I am not in that camp.

The 22nd Amendment states:

“Section 1. No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term [a term is four years] to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once. But this article shall not apply to any person holding the office of President when this article was proposed by the Congress, and shall not prevent any person who may be holding the office of President, or acting as President, during the term within which this article becomes operative from holding the office of President or acting as President during the remainder of such term.

Section 2. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several states within seven years from the date of its submission to the states by the Congress.”

What this amendment is implying here is a double limitation of liberty, first it is an obvious limitation on an individual, but that individual cannot unilaterally elect him(her)self they must be freely elected by the current electoral college system. The other side of this is clearly a limitation of the liberty of the people to freely elect whomever they desire, for as long of a term they deem reasonable. The problem here has to do with the intoxicating power of government, and the power it has to influence other nations and vice versa. Were an individual electable for life, albeit in four year increments, the potential exists for a whole variety of usurpations and intoxicated motivations.

Indeed, Thomas Jefferson wrote:

“[The] President seems a bad edition of a Polish King. He may be elected from four years to four years, for life. Reason and experience prove to us, that a chief magistrate, so continuable, is an office for life. When one or two generations shall have proved that this is an office for life, it becomes, on every occasion, worthy of intrigue, of bribery, of force, and even of foreign interference. It will be of great consequence to France and England to have America governed by a Galloman or Angloman. Once in office, and possessing the military force of the Union, without the aid or check of a council, he would not be easily dethroned, even if the people could be induced to withdraw their votes from him. I wish that at the end of the four years, they had made him forever ineligible a second time.” – Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1787.

Jefferson later concluded that what would be best would be two terms of four years and barred thereafter from serving as the chief magistrate,

“The service for eight years, with a power to remove at the end of the first four, comes nearly to my principle as corrected by experience.” –Thomas Jefferson to John Taylor, 1805.

The Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution was ratified on December 15, 1791 and its purpose was to respond to the obvious problems and concerns raised by the anti-Federalists, including Patrick Henry. In 1788, Henry wrote:

“In my weak judgment, a Government is strong when it applies to the most important end of all Governments, the rights and privileges of the people. In the Honorable Member’s proposal, jury trial, the press, and religion, and other essential rights, are not to be given up. What are they The world will say, that you intended to give them up. When you go into an enumeration of your rights, and stop that enumeration, the inevitable conclusion is, that what is omitted is intended to be surrendered.”

In light of Henry’s concerns, what the 22nd Amendment established was a check on the power of an individual over both the government and the people. I cannot possibly imagine Henry would argue against this provision, particularly in light of all the liberties which have been usurped (much of it he warned us of). I believe were he to have been alive to witness the United States Congress pass the amendment on March 21, 1947 he would have simply stated that this is a reflection of his worst fears for liberty, that an Amendment was now necessary to guide this republic in its own ability to sustain its liberty.

So, in light of the above, I will concur with the post at Dr. Reisman’s blog which raises an eyebrow to the matter of having Bill Clinton be so close to serving an additional term. It should be part of the political calculus, it should be in the minds of voters as they go to the polls. Reisman concludes his article, “If and to the extent that Mrs. Clinton’s chances of election increase, the couple needs to find a way to guarantee that Mr. Clinton would not in fact be a three or four-term President.” Given the political proclivities of the Clinton’s such a guarantee, even if made, would not be worth the digital media it is imprinted upon… Let’s hope the American people are mindful of precisely that which Jefferson was so concerned.

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