[Homestead] The Lame Duck Presidency

Tvoivozhd tvoivozd at infionline.net
Sun Sep 5 17:46:20 EDT 2004

TOUGH SEQUELS: Richard Nixon (r.) never made it through a second term, 
while Dwight Eisenhower had health problems.

Second terms: big desire, little result
If Bush wins reelection, history shows he may have to overcome fleeing 
staff, declining support.
By Peter Grier 
| Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
WASHINGTON - As President Bush pushes hard for reelection, here's a bit 
of advice many of his predecessors might agree with: Beware the second 

This doesn't mean US chief executives can't get important work done up 
up until the end. That's when Bill Clinton began piling up government 
surpluses, after all. Ronald Reagan kept up pressure on the cracking 
Soviet Union.



But history suggests that, on the whole, second terms become the spent 
volcanoes of US politics. Staff flee, public support dwindles, and bad 
things just seem to happen.

Think just two words: Monica Lewinsky. Two more words: Iran-contra. 
Richard Nixon was forced out of office in his second term. Dwight 
Eisenhower had health problems. Harry Truman started fighting the Korean 

Cozy retirement in Crawford, Texas, may be looking better by the minute.

"Second terms tend to be downhill," says Stephen Hess, a professor of 
media and governance at George Washington University.

The reasons incumbents try for second terms are obvious, of course. 
Reelection validates their first term. There's unfinished work they want 
to do. Their staff and party structure push them to continue, usually. 
And come on, who would voluntarily give up Air Force One?

That said, the pressures of office are undeniably wearing. Facing 
declining political support and the morass of the Vietnam War, Lyndon 
Johnson declined to run. As Mr. Bush knows, his own father lost 15 
pounds and had trouble sleeping as the decision point for his reelection 
bid neared.

George H. W. Bush's press secretary, Marlin Fitzwater, thought that 
following the end of the Gulf War the elder Bush's heart was no longer 
in it. "It seemed to me that he had a real feeling that he didn't want 
to run," Mr. Fitzwater later said.

Ultimately Bush did try for a second term - and lost.

Incumbents who win, for their part, tend to want to shake things up. 
They know that they won't face voters again and that their power may 
quickly wane with the onset of lame duck status.

"History shows that presidencies are often remade in a second term," 
notes a Brookings Institution study of governing styles by noted scholar 
Charles O. Jones.

They're often remade from the top down. Most modern second terms have 
begun with a Cabinet shuffle - and Bush is likely to be no exception if 
he wins.

Few in Washington expect Secretary of State Colin Powell to serve four 
more years, for example. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice 
might be a candidate for his job.

Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge has hinted he might also hit the 
highway out of town. And if he leaves, who would be better to fill his 
wingtips than Rudolph Giuliani?

But too much change can be counterproductive. Upon his reelection in 
1972, Richard Nixon asked for wholesale resignations from his Cabinet 
members and top aides.

"The result was demoralizing and confounding," concludes the Brookings 
Institution study.



Following turnover at the top, second terms generally experience another 
personnel trend - exodus at the bottom. Experienced mid- and low-level 
aides flee for the private sector and shorter hours and higher pay.

They know their value to employers partly lies in their contacts with 
and knowledge of the administration in power.

"These are people who say 'I better get out now,' " says Mr. Hess.

Already, research shows that in general White House aides now stay in 
office only about half as long as their predecessors of the 1950s. The 
upshot: By the end of a second term, many who know how to get things 
done have left, and their replacements aren't yet fully up to speed.

Domestic policy agendas often similarly suffer from a kind of burnout. 
The things presidents wanted to do, and could get through Congress, have 
been done. What's left are small items that can present the illusion of 
progress but don't really do much (think Bill Clinton and his many 
small-governance initiatives) and big items that couldn't get through in 
the first place.

President Bush, for instance, has vowed that he'll continue to press for 
Social Security reform via partial privatization in a second term. Well, 
join the club: Pretty much every second-termer since Johnson has 
promised to shake up Social Security - and failed.

Constrained at home, presidents have often become preoccupied with 
foreign affairs in second terms. Sometimes, that's a good thing. 
Eisenhower left office a popular figure. Reagan's Soviet policies helped 
end the cold war - although his inattention to the fact that his aides 
were selling arms to Iran to raise money for the Nicaraguan contras cast 
a pall over his final White House years.

But for every Ike there's a Johnson - a president weighed down at the 
end by the problems of the world. Truman had the Korean stalemate, for 

Then there's James Madison. His second term coincided with the latter 
stages of the War of 1812. In 1814, the British invaded Maryland, broke 
through to Washington - and burned down the White House, Madison's home.


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