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The Contemporary Presidency: “An Excess of Refinement”: Lame Duck Presidents in Constitutional and Historical Context


David A. Crockett is an associate professor of political science at Trinity University and author of The Opposition Presidency: Leadership and the Constraints of History (2002), Running against the Grain: How Opposition Presidents Win the White House (2008), and numerous journal articles.


Well into President George W. Bush's second term, history appears to be repeating itself—second terms are far more problematic than first terms. Are problematic second terms inevitable, and if so are they caused by the Twenty-second Amendment? In this article I explore the constitutional and historical dynamics of presidential term limits, focusing on the leadership and clerkship roles the president performs in the constitutional system, constrained by the dynamics of political time. The article examines the classic arguments for and against term limits, comparing Hamilton's focus on stability to Jefferson's concern for tyranny. It then surveys the scholarship on second term problems to tease out the effects of term limits from the more general problem of second terms. I conclude with an analysis of second term and term limit problems from a political time perspective, suggesting that presidents are more constrained in the pursuit of their constitutional functions by the dynamics of regime cycles than they are by term limits. It appears that term limits add little to the functions of the presidency in the constitutional order.