Saturday, February 14, 2009

The immortal presidency of Saint Obama

In the afterglow of the immaculate coronation of our new savior-president, the idea has been floated to allow Barack Obama to serve for life.

Thomas Jefferson would not approve. In 1807, the two-term president and term limits supporter wrote: “If some termination to the services of the chief magistrate be not fixed by the Constitution or supplied in practice, his office, nominally for years, will in fact become for life; and history shows how easily that degenerates into an inheritance.”

Our first president set the precedent, declining to run for a third term, believing that unlimited tenure is unrepublican. Jefferson signalled his intention to follow suit in 1805, when he wrote to John Taylor that "General Washington set the example of voluntary retirement after eight years. I shall follow it, and a few more precedents will oppose the obstacle of habit to anyone after a while who shall endeavor to extend his term. Perhaps it may beget a disposition to establish it by an amendment of the Constitution."

Eventually, we did, with the passage of the 22nd Amendment in 1947 after the death of Franklin Roosevelt, the first president to violate our revolutionary tradition of term limits.

However, in January it was reported that the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary was considering a bill from Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY), H. J. Res. 5, which, according to the bill’s language, proposes "an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to repeal the twenty-second article of amendment, thereby removing the limitation on the number of terms an individual may serve as president."

The proposal is so contrary to the both founding American traditions and the current public will that I doubt it will even pick up cosponsors, but it is a sparkling example of how power worships power and -- again in Jefferson's words -- freedom requires eternal vigilance.