Friday, February 2, 2007

The 22nd Amendment

A recent editorial by one of the editors of The New Republic argues in favor of doing away with the 22nd Amendment and allowing Presidents to serve more than two terms. Lest anyone forget, the 22nd was passed in the 1950s and was one of the last great accomplishments of small-r republicanism in America. Congress, led by the late Robert Taft, pushed the amendment through to prevent any more Presidents following in the footsteps of FDR and holding the supreme office for the rest of their natural lives. The New Republic man finds this a great limitation on the people's will and wants the 22nd done away with and would let anyone hold the office for as long as he or she wishes, provided whoever is President keeps getting re-elected.
Most commentators would not be as forthright as this particular editor, but in fact ever since the Civil War--when we first took our steps toward becoming an empire--there have been movements aimed at creating an emperor, which is what a President for life would in effect be. In recent decades we have not only made the President more powerful relative to the other branches of government by granting him extraordinary war powers and special powers of investigation and allowing him to shape the courts, it has also become obvious that if we wish to manage our empire effectively we have to allow the President to serve for as long as he deems necessary. This is so because the inhabitants of an empire have a far different relationship with their government than do the citizens of a republic. Empires demand that there be absolute domestic peace in the homeland so the government can direct its energies upon its forgein adventures, and the residents of the homeland must be given lavish rewards in oder to keep them happy when the government makes demands upon them that no republic would dare tender. In practical terms, that means the people must be provided for throughout their lives so they do not object when their rulers ask them to fight in distant wars or demand the taxes which keep the empire humming along. Only a leader who has the total loyalty of his subjects and who does not have to worry about the domestic peace can give the people what they want or tell them what they must do, i.e., he must be an emperor. (Failure to produce such an absolute ruler is one of the factors which doomed the European colonial empires of the 18th and 19th centuries, for the people of Britain and France remained citizens and eventually objected to the sacrifices they were being asked to make.) In America the people would object to crowning someone or to a military coop, but we are more than willing to elect a popular President for ever and ever.
Theodore Roosevelt realized America would embrace an absolute leader, so long as that leader was the people's choice. He failed to win a third term in 1912, but polls show he would have been re-elected in 1920, shortly after he died, and, had he lived, he probably would have installed the New Deal his distant cousin Franklin in fact did. FDR ruled until he died, but he was unable to establish a true dynasty. The Kennedys had a more effective plan and would have established a family dynasty had John and Bobby not been murdered and had Teddy and the young generation of the family not been plagued by appititites they could not control. The Bush family has also tried to rule in spite of the 22nd, and after W. has left office, his bother Jeb and Jeb's son George P. will, perhaps, also enjoy terms in the White House. (Bear in mind that a President is more than one person. Every administration is a collection of powerful men and women, and each time another family member is elected President, that collection of power brokers remains in office.) President Clinton's wife is now a candidate, and should she be elected we will have been ruled by members of two families for an entire generation. (We have in truth been ruled by two seperate groups, most of whom have no blood relation to the Bushes or the Clintons, and the primary aim of both groups is to eliminate the other faction.) Had Ronald Reagan not been limited by the 22nd, he would have ruled until he became too ill to do his duty. Bill Clinton, had he been allowed to run again, would still be our President.
Sometime in this century, there will be a successful movement to do away with the 22nd, exactly as the editorialist mentioned above presently desires. When that movement succeds, the nation will have an emperor as powerful and as secure as Augustus, and he will not be kept in power by armies or by secret police or by a new constitution. He will be emperor because that is what a colossus like our government needs to keep it running and because he will be what the people desire. (Should any member of the people doubt the emperor's right to rule, the media can be counted upon to tell him every day that he is wrong.) Which faction this emperor respresents will the great political question of our time, but one can be certain this future ruler will serve as long as he wishes and he will name his successor, and that it will take something very like a civil war to overthrow the continured rule of that ruler's faction. To prevent him from taking power in the first place, would require abandoning our empire, and that we will never do.

1 comment:

R. C. A. O'Neal said...

Since such an amendment would be an extremely divisive issue, favouring the reigning president, I wonder whether the attempt would be so divisive as to split apart an already polarised union. Perhaps, in the event of an extreme crisis, repealing the 22nd amendment would be possible.