Reagan and term limits

After seeing Clinton’s farewell address, I recall Reagan’s farewell address from 1988. I seem to remember him saying something about how he would fight to have the term limits on the president repealed. Am I remembering correctly? And if he did say that, how does that jive with the general Republican view in favor of term limits?

Minor point: Reagan’s farwell was in January 1989. Reagan made no mention of working to abolish term limits in his farewell address. I do believe he lamented his term limit elsewhere, but I’m not sure where. His farewell was more of a reflection on re-invigorating patriotism, Soviet glasnost, and calls to keep government growth in check.

One thing I found humorous was his premature exultation that “The Persian Gulf is no longer a war zone.” Hmmm, just a couple years later…:rolleyes:

I found a website selling the address if you’re eager to see the Great Communicator in action.

After some more searching I found the speech text here.

As for the second question: There’s nothing particularly Republican about term limits; that perception arose with Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America” that included term limit promises. As we’ve seen, however, elected office is harder to jettison for many politcos than they’d thought: very few have fulfilled their promised term limits.

It was a Republican congress that legislated presidential term limits so the association predates Gingrich. However, I would have been very surprised if Reagan had spoken out against the idea in his farewell address. He was after all succeeded by another Republican and publicly complaining about his inability to run again would have looked like a condemnation of Bush.

Didn’t the states have a little something to do with it, seeing as how it was a constitutional amendment?

I’ve never understood the appeal of term limits. If you have a terrific person in a given office, why not let the people keep him or her in that office for as long as they remain terrific? And if they cease to be terrific, why remove from the public the sheer joy of exacting electoral revenge?

Like the Tories and 1993 - not quite the same, since Mr. Mulroney had ducked out, but it certainly illustrated the glee principle.

I believe the original Republican enthusiasm for presidential term limits stemmed from their dismay at seeing FDR elected four times. It boomeranged on them with Eisenhower, who no doubt could easily have been elected for three or more terms. And Reagan, too, as long as his health held out.

Yes, the states had to ratify (by 3/4). But ammendments also require a 2/3 approval in both houses or an application by 2/3 of the state legislatures to be proposed for ratification. IIRC, all ammendments to date have been submitted to the states upon congressional majority, rather than by the alternate method, and there are questions as to how the mechanics would work if 2/3 of the state legislatures wished to convene a convention to propose an ammendment.

Presidential term limits was ammendment 22, passed during the Truman administration, and was drafted so as to not apply to Truman. Who didn’t run for reelection anyway, and approved of congressional term limits.

I’ve never understood the appeal of term limits either. At best, it’s a treatment of a symptom rather than the disease - if we need them because it is impossible for the electoral process to remove incumbents even when they ought to be removed, we ought to be examining why that is the case and doing something about it.

Well, that’s what they did.

Like all good things, this is non-partisan. The Democrats were just as glad that the Republicans passed the amendment–after seeing the job Eisenhower and Reagan did on them. We don’t like kings. And the next person is as good as the last.

my memory on the reagan becoming anti-term limit is as follows:

During an interview he was asked what issues he had changed his view on during his presidency. He said that he now was against term limits after being for them at the beginning of his presidency. I THINK i remember him saying something to the effect that he would have run for a 3rd term if not for term limits, but that nancy would have been against it.

Again, these are old memories i’m dredging up, so I’m not sure if this is entirely accurate. I am pretty sure his opposition to term limits happened at the very end of his second term, or shortly after leaving office, and that it was in response to the interview question i remember.

FWIW, i’ve always been opposed to term limits. We already have them, they’re called elections. If people want to vote the same people back time and again, that is their right.

Yes he mentioned this; the republicans all were quite pleased as they saw this as an opportunity to put him in office for a third term. He likely could have gotten it too but most people mistake this as him asking for them to abolish term limits FOR HIM; he actually said that he would really push for it only after he had left office and if term limits were abolished before the end of his second term he would not seek a third.

oh and he only said this in news interviews not his fairwell address

Though personally I disagree with term limits but if they were to abolish them perhaps the abolishment should also include making it easier to impeach the president

Impeachment is the act of accusing, not convicting.

Impeaching the President is easy, he can be accused of anything. Getting a conviction is the hard part. As it should be.

This is correct in so far that “impeachment” is, strictly speaking, the accusation, not the verdict rendered upon accusation. But even impeaching the President is not that easy, since only the House of Representatives can do that. Getting the Senate to convict the President upon impeachment is probably harder than getting the House to impeach him in the first place, but even the latter is quite a hard thing to do. It happened only twice in American history, with another President (Nixon) anticipating impeachment by resignation.

Of course, this is verbal hair-splitting. In common parlance, “impeachment” may just as well be understood to refer to the entire process of ousting a President from office.

Should there be term limits for zombies? :slight_smile:

Actually, the 22nd Amendment has impacted only four men historically: Eisenhower (R, 1953-61), Reagan (R, 1981-89, Clinton (D, 1993-2001), and Bush fils (R, 2001-09). It’s arguable that it also barred Nixon from running again from 1976 on, since he had been elected twice, but for obvious reasons, the question never came up.

Well, not in your universe…

By 1989 Reagan was 78 years old and clearly struggling mentally (later diagnosed to be suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease). He would not have been effective in a third term, although it is possible that under the guidance of his advisors the United States may have been more consistently supportive of emergent democracy in the fledgling Russian Federation instead of the Bush “wait and see” mode and the Clinton “not our problem” approach under which oligarchy took hold in the former Soviet republics. We may have also seen a greater push to implementing START II and reducing nuclear arsenals.

However, that being said, there is a very persuasive argument for presidential term limits; however good a particular executive may be, the nation overall is generally improved by the presentation of new ideas and new voices. When one idea or leader dominates, it tends toward a political and intellectual stagnation. Even when the transition is between two executives from the same political party, the differences in focus and perspective keep the political landscape vital and allow new ideas to foment.

As for Reagan, it should be recognized that his celebrated legacy is to no small extent an accident of chance; he came to the presidency when America suffered economic decline largely due to external forces, and was locked in a stalemate of false detente with the Soviet Union. The expansion of oil production by OPEC, the boom in computer and medical technology, and the die-off of hardline Soviet Communist leaders to be replaced by energetic and more pragmatic younger generation which was willing to speak plainly about the problems of the East Bloc all contributed to the economic and prestige improvement of the United States. By leaving office in 1989 he avoided the economic stagnation and volatile post-Cold War foreign situations that plagued his successor, and any further investigations into shady dealings like the Iran-Contra affair. Had he stayed on another term, his legacy would have doubtless looked somewhat less positive.


Historically, the U.S. has had three flavors of term limit enthusiasm, each tied to its time. The Founders held the ideal of the citizen-politician, who would take a temporary position in government to share his wisdom and then return to his real job. At the turn of the 20th century, various groups, including the Progressive and Good-Government reformers, wanted to break the hold of corrupt political machines that controlled cities and states. After WWII, we saw the rise of punish your enemy politics by a temporarily ascendant minority party. That resulted in the 22th Amendment* and in the Contract for America. Although this era often mouthed the sentiments of the first two as a public relations exercise, the reality was that most of the Republicans elected in 1994 pledging to hold to the limits in the Contract conveniently forgot them if they were still in office when the time came.

It’s hard to argue today that party machines hold permanent control over an area, and even the Founders quickly saw that politics was a vocation much like any other. Despite all reality, that American ideal that any citizen could govern never quite went away. At the same time, Americans worship experience, competence, and expertise. When newcomers enter a race the dynamic of the ads is always experienced for our guy but corrupt for your guy, know nothing for your guy but fresh and vital for ours. Americans always want both, the person who’s been there forever but remains untouched by the System.

There’s an additional problem. Americans tend to conflate all elected officials into a single pot. But at the national and state levels**, the executive is a manager/administrator. They may originate policy, but they rely on hordes of experts for the details. Legislatures, however, have hundreds of members. They don’t have direct responsibility for the entire area and are free to become true experts on individual aspects of policy. The history of the US is full of acts named for the Representative or Senator who sponsored them, did the research, held the hearings, wrote the language of the bill. There may be exceptions, but I think that just about every one of these came from people who had stayed in office long past what a term limit would have allowed. Again, Americans object when a bill reaches thousands of pages in length but they also want to be able to understand exactly what a law means without having to resort to the courts every time they need to do anything. They also hate when lobbyists come in to write bills, but this happens continually because they have far more expertise in their specialties than the average representative, and would have more than any representative in a term limit situation.

The President and most, but not all, Governors are so powerful that they counterbalance their entire legislatures. That may be the argument for executive term limits. The complex modern world and the need for true experts argue that term limits for legislatures cause more depletion of knowledge than is gained from freshness. This is a trade off, not an absolute. Some people will abuse their longevity, whether or not they are experts. This is a human problem, seen just as much in private industry and academia. Most large structures have learned to put rules into place to control for this rather than lose that body of expertise.

When people argue about term limits, it’s worth making the distinction between executive and legislative terms limits. And it’s necessary to explain why the trade offs from term limits are a positive. Punish your political enemies doesn’t cut it.

  • I know the 22nd Amendment was passed with a bipartisan majority. At the time, though, the Democrats had an extremely conservative southern wing, who hated Roosevelt and the New Deal and the coming era of civil rights, and a big tent rest of the party who seldom agreed on anything. The Republicans led the drive for the amendment to ensure that another Roosevelt wouldn’t happen. Many Democrats were happy to go along with them knowing that no Southerner could in the foreseeable future ever be elected President. The actual future would have - and did - stagger their expectations. But it was definitely a punish your enemies vote.

** City and county government make this argument somewhat harder to see. Their legislative bodies are much smaller, from single digits to a few dozen. There are few local issues that are the counterpart to become expert in because anything of real importance is superseded by the state and federal levels. Mayors are often more directly in charge of the totality in a way that Governors and Presidents can’t be. When I was in government, the community relations position inside a department was a prize for people entering the political world. They went on to serve on the City Council and School Board. They were utterly incompetent in every sense but could do no real harm because neither body had real power. That’s also the trade-off for citizen-politicians.

I recall hearing the argument that the 2-term limit was an unspoken agreement set by George Washington - specifically, the feeling that president should be a temporary job, not one for life. FDR honestly thought he had good reason to stay on, but broke the “old boy’s understanding” by running two more times. The 22nd amendment was a way to say “if people can’t do it by the honor system, let’s make it formal”.

If you believe that you probably also believe that Washington could never tell a lie.