How to End the Second Term Curse

Larry Summers: “Would the U.S. government function better if presidents were limited to one term, perhaps of six years? The unfortunate, bipartisan experience with second terms suggests the issue is worthy of debate. The historical record helps makes the case for change.”

“Why the record is not dispositive, however, is suggested by the term ‘lame duck.’ As the phrase suggests, leaders nearing the end of their time in office lose the ability to influence other actors by offering future rewards and punishments or by making deals in which they commit to future actions. If this is the main reason second terms are difficult, then removing the possibility of reelection could simply pull the problems forward into first terms.”

“This is why many scholars regard the current constitutional limit of two presidential terms as problematic. However, reviewing the fairly dismal experience of second terms, my guess is that problems caused by lame-duck effects are much smaller than those caused by a toxic combination of hubris and exhaustion after the extraordinary effort that a president and his team must exert to achieve reelection.”

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