Thursday, October 2, 2008

More on Term Limits

How would American history have been different if the United States hadn’t adopted that amendment in the early 1950s limiting the president to two terms? Certainly Eisenhower would have not run again in 1960, and it seems the only presidents who might have run for third terms might have been Reagan (he would have probably won, but with his incipient Alzheimer’s it would have a terrible embarrassment) and I suppose Clinton in 2000, and who knows what would have happened there. (Or how would it have been different if had been adopted earlier? Who would the Democrats have run in 1940? Henry Wallace?)

If the city hadn’t imposed a two term limit on mayors, it seems very likely that Giuliani would have won in 2001, though I suspect he would have had the poor third term that his predecessors LaGuardia, Wagner, and Koch enjoyed. (If the city’s term limit law had limited mayors to three rather than two terms it would have done less damage to the city’s natural political cycles.)

How do I feel about term limits? I have no strong feelings about Michael Bloomberg. I did not live in the city for any part of his term (the first mayor since Vincent Impellitieri for whom this can be said.) He seems to be a calm technocrat who loves power and has done a reasonably good job. He is loved by business interests, who sorely want him to serve a third term. (And thus it has always been in the city, with mayors made and unmade by the city’s business interests, back to the days when the Dutch West India Company made and unmade New Netherland’s governors.)

I am all for getting rid of superfluous and anomalous legislation, but not in order to benefit the career of a specific politician. I would love to see Arnold Schwarzenegger start a campaign to amend the US constitution so the next plausible immigrant politician (after Schwarzenegger) who has presidential possibilities and ambitions would not be barred from seeking that office. And I would be happy to see Bloomberg campaign against term limits while he goes on to do something else. He’s a public spirited guy; let him serve as Secretary of the Treasury under either a McCain or Obama administration, or put in charge of the $700 billion bailout, but he doesn’t need to be mayor again. And nothing is stupidier than Ronald Lauder ‘s suggestion that term limits should otherwise be kept in place with a one time dispensation for Bloomberg. It’s the other way around—there is something to be said about executive term limits, and as the history of NYC shows, even without term limits three terms is about enough. Cities in which mayors can serve for uninterrupted decades on end like Chicago or Newark on end are in some fundamental sense democracy-challenged. Mayors for life aren’t pretty spectacles. But legislators need time and familiarity to do their jobs adequately, and I don’t think benefit from too rapid turnover. Anyway, the fact that almost all the movers and shakers in the city think that Bloomberg is indispensible is an excellent reason for turning to someone else.

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