Tag Archives: president

The Post-White House Political Career

So presidential terms are fascinating and I like the idea of promising to be a one-termer. The other idea I find fascinating is what happens to presidents after the White House? Most former presidents retire quietly and busy themselves with humanitarian projects.

We’re not a monarchy or an empire, so that’s probably a good thing.

Post-Presidential Politics
Only three presidents that I’m aware of continued their political career after office (at least on a national scale):

  • William Howard Taft served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court for nine years.
  • Andrew Johnson served four months in the Senate, his term cut short by a stroke. (Serving with the same senators who voted for his impeachment? Awkward.)
  • John Quincy Adams served 17 years in the House of Representatives and effectively had a second career as an abolitionist.

Adams is the most interesting case in this list of presidents who bucked the trend. He embraced the abolitionist cause and some have argued that he did more in Congress than he ever did as president.

It’s probably not a coincidence that all three served single-term presidencies and were defeated in their reelection bids. I imagine they had a sense of something to prove (definitely the case with Johnson, Adams seemed to have a mission, and Taft always wanted to be chief justice).

Any Current Takers?
I wonder if any current former presidents could pull this off? It seems like it’d be pretty easy for a former president to win (maybe that’s part of what makes this idea unseemly and why so few have done it). Seems like George W. Bush could take Texas and join the Senate. And as reviled as Barack Obama seems to be by half the country, he could easily nab Chicago’s district and take up a seat in the House of Representatives.

While John Quincy Adams served in Congress he met another congressman from Illinois who would go on to be president.

I can’t see any current former presidents actually doing it though. With the exception of George H.W. Bush, the rest are all hated so much by the opposition that they’d be a constant distraction. But it’s interesting to think about.

We don’t need a country of ruling elites (more than we already have), but I’m also intrigued by the example of Adams. Continuing to serve in the name of an important cause is a good reason to buck the trend.

Random Fact: Ever the contrarian, John Quincy Adams was sworn in as president with his hand on a book of constitutional law as opposed to the more traditional Bible. Imagine the uproar if someone tried that today?

What If Presidents Promised to Serve Only One Term?

So I think watching history unfold is captivating, especially when it comes to presidential politics. Yesterday I recounted the numbers on presidential reelection. Today I want to talk about a fun strategy.

The other night I couldn’t sleep and a political strategy came to mind. We seem to be stuck in an era of gridlock, where politicians are always angling for the next election. They’re focused more on staying in office than getting anything done.

So what if a presidential candidate promised to serve only one consecutive term?

They run for president and promise not to run for a consecutive reelection. Assuming they can stick to their promise, that means they have four years in office with no need to worry about reelection. Suddenly the first term is not about ensuring a second term. Their last year isn’t mostly lost to distraction while they run a presidential campaign and the country at the same time. Let the candidates squabble through the debates while the president remains presidential.

The American people get a more focused president. And the president would have the option of running again for a second, non-consecutive term (without the “loser” stigma). If they were a well-loved president and enjoyed doing the job, they’d have a great shot at reelection down the road.

Turning Down the Job
It rarely happens in U.S. history that a president decides not to run. It’s happened seven times.

Three times a president served a single term and did not run again:

  • James Polk. He campaigned with a promise to only serve one term and historians say it kept him focused on actually accomplishing stuff (of course he died 103 days after leaving office, so his post-presidential career was quite short).
  • Rutherford B. Hayes. He also promised not to run for reelection, though his initial win was clouded in scandal. He worked for social and educational reform in his retirement.
  • James Buchanan. He also declined to seek reelection, though that probably has more to do with his incredible lack of popularity as the country descended into the Civil War. More than a principled stand, he was saving face.

Four times a president served a partial term when their predecessor died, were elected to second terms and could have run for third terms but did not: Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Calvin Coolidge and Lyndon Johnson (though Roosevelt ran for a non-consecutive third term but split the ticket and lost).

It’s rarely been done in U.S. political history. Most presidents either served two terms or served only one and lost their re-election bids (or died while in office). It seems like two non-consecutive terms could be a way to accomplish more and save face politically (a former president could always gauge the popular opinion and have a good idea of their chances before running for their non-consecutive second term; and there would be plenty of reasons to opt out and not run again).

The One Exception
Grover Cleveland is the cagey president who pulled off the two non-consecutive terms. These days losing an election means you don’t get to try again (John McCain, John Kerry, Al Gore, Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush, Michael Dukakis, Walter Mondale, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, etc.).

But Cleveland pulled it off. It’d be like Jimmy Carter going up against Ronald Reagan in 1984 and winning, or George H.W. Bush against Bill Clinton in 1996 and winning; it’d take a special set of circumstances to work. And that’s really what Cleveland had. He lost the electoral college in the 1888 election but won the popular vote. When he moved out of the White House his wife told a staff member to take care of things because she’d be back in four years. She was right.

So maybe Al Gore coming back in 2004 to challenge George W. Bush would be a better comparison.

Run On a One-Term Platform
Limiting presidents to a single, six-year term is another idea that’s often discussed. Though I like the idea of presidents having another shot and giving the people a chance to weigh in.

But I think promising to run for a single-term would be powerful in our election-mad times. It immediately puts the single-termer above the fray. They’re here to do business. It’s bold. It’s different. And maybe it’s crazy enough to work.

Now which politician is going to be patient enough to walk away and wait four years before trying again? Which politician is going to be bold enough to make that kind of promise in the digital age and stick with it? Which politician is going to realize that this plan would effectively lengthen their time in the spotlight?


Two-Term vs. One-Term Presidents

I’m hardly even an armchair political spectator, but there is something about presidents, political power and history that’s fascinating. Presidential election years tend to kill my productivity because I want to hear the latest news and get the latest insights on what could happen (even when nothing is happening).

Watching history unfold is captivating.

So I’ve got some random thoughts on presidents and who gets reelected. But first, let’s look at the numbers on presidential reelection.

There’s a tendency to think of one-term presidents as failures. (Somehow being elected President of the United States once isn’t good enough.)

Two terms is the standard, exemplified by George Washington and only ever broken by Franklin Roosevelt on the brink of World War II, which brought on the  22nd Amendment and the two-term limit (though Ulysses S. Grant tried for a non-consecutive third term and was nearly nominated).

But the numbers look a little different:

  • 16 presidents were elected to two terms (or more, thanks Franklin).
  • 9 presidents were elected to one term and lost their reelection bids (these would be the guys we think of as failures).
  • 7 presidents were elected to one term and did not seek immediate reelection (3 were simple single-termers who didn’t run again; 4 had succeeded to the job and served a partial term, were then elected to another term, but didn’t run for a third term. Until Theodore Roosevelt tried for a third, non-consecutive term, but lost.)
  • 5 presidents succeeded to the presidency and never won an election.
  • 5 died before getting a chance to run for a second term, so it’s hard to know if they would have made two-term presidents
  • Only 1 president escaped the failure club by losing reelection but then coming back to win four years later and end up serving two non-consecutive terms. (Grover Cleveland forever complicated presidential math because we count him twice; Barack Obama is the 44th president, but the 43rd person to have the job.)

I don’t know what those numbers really tell you, other than the fact that lots of presidents have only served one term. 14 of them served a term and lost reelection and 7 more opted not to run again (maybe because they’d lose?).

2012 Election Reflection

Obama family at 2012 election night acceptance speech

Presidential election night is such a nervous, glorious mishmash of emotions. I can think of no other event when something so big is decided so quickly. Sure, the election drags on forever, but despite the polls you never know for sure who’s going to win. Then everybody votes, we tally ’em up while some talking heads blather on, and it’s decided (usually: thank goodness for not repeating 2000). Done. The next four years are in place. History is written.

It’s big.

I have a hard time getting anything done on election day (that’s why I turned to a distraction). Even today I’ll need to process for a while (and I’m doing that here… get ready for a long post). Continue reading 2012 Election Reflection

Why I’m Voting for Barack Obama 2012 Edition

My usual disclaimer: I’ve been leery to discuss politics this year, mainly because I’ve seen a lot of people I once respected making fools of themselves on Facebook. I don’t want to be that person. So I’m trying to talk politics without being a jackass. Hopefully I’m getting there.

In 2008 I explained why I was voting for Barack Obama. I wish I’d written similar posts in 2004 and 2000. Though it’s entirely possible I was so unexcited about candidates in those elections that I wouldn’t have bothered.

Before going any further, it’s worth pointing to my 2008 post, Here’s Where I Stand: Let’s Disagree Well. Part of why politics is so caustic is that we fail to recognize where we stand on issues. If you’re socially conservative and I’m socially liberal, of course we’re going to disagree on a lot of social issues. Instead of getting mad over statements about specific policy stances, sometimes it’s easier to recognize those underlying positions and just agree to disagree.

Which is why these discussions are hard and tend to turn people off. In some cases there’s not a lot to discuss. But I do think it’s important to talk about where we stand and why. To explain our position. To exercise our democracy. And to hopefully do so in a humble and respectful way. That’s the foundation of everything we hold dear.

Continue reading Why I’m Voting for Barack Obama 2012 Edition