The most effective term limit for a President is to be defeated after his first term in office, if necessary, to deny him the opportunity to wreak further havoc on the nation.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected four times, starting in 1932 and ending in 1944. The twenty-second Amendment to the Constitution became law in 1951, limiting future Presidents to two terms, a tradition that had begun with George Washington.
Roosevelt’s fourth term would last eighty-three days until he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage on April 12, 1945. Hitler would take his own life eighteen days later as the Russians entered the outskirts of Berlin ending his mad dreams of conquest. Four months after being sworn into office, in August 1945 Harry Truman put an end to Japan’s quest to control Asia.
As the war raged on in Europe and Asia, how Roosevelt came to select Truman and the election campaign of 1943 against Thomas Dewey is told by historian Stanley Weintraub in his recently published book, “Final Victory.”
By 1943, Roosevelt had won elections in 1932, 1936, 1940, and would win again handily despite the fact that he was seriously ill, something that was obvious to those who saw him in person and even from the photos in the newspapers.
For most of the young men who were fighting in both theatres of war, Roosevelt was the only President they ever knew. From 1929 onward, the nation had struggled with the Great Depression. In1941 America had been attacked by Japan and drawn into a war that had been raging in Europe since 1939 and in Asia since 1930.
As with every election, the one in 1943 was regarded as the most important of its time. For myself, I was just six-years-old, oblivious to the titanic events occurring and most surely the politics of the election. It was a surprise, therefore, to learn that for most Americans—despite the fact that many had loved ones fighting—the wars were so distant that the concerns of everyday life were uppermost in their lives.
Just as today, the economy was on the mind of voters. “Despite admittedly elastic price and wage controls, the cost of living had kept rising and dollars bought less than ever. An ordinary woman’s dress cost $2.98 and a high-fashion one $16.95. Men’s suits approached $26 and topcoats $28…Basic industrial wages were reaching a dollar an hour, and though corporations and farmers were doubling and tripling pre-war income, Congress was hostile to paying for the war through increased taxes.”
Today the only thing President Obama talks about is increasing taxes and, despite his claims, everyone will be hit by higher taxes via Taxameggon on January 1, 2013 unless Congress intervenes and as the twenty-one taxes hidden in Obamacare kick in if it is not repealed.
What one learns from Weintraub’s book, as from others about Roosevelt, is that he was an extraordinarily cunning man, devious, and a brilliant politician. He was also a realist, understanding that an Eastern Front by the Russians was necessary to defeat Hitler, but also quite naïve regarding the penetration of Communists throughout his administration right up to and in the White House.
“J. Edgar Hoover suspected—correctly—that among Soviet informants were Alger Hiss in the State Department, Harry Dexter White at the Treasury, and Lauchlin Currie, an aide at the White House.”
Not unlike the 2012 elections, “The President knew that he had to appeal to what has since been termed the ‘swing vote’” the “uncommitted independents.” So, despite the passage of time the political issues of Roosevelt’s final campaign were much the same as today’s.
Roosevelt won 432 electoral votes to Dewey’s anemic 99. He and Harry Truman were sworn into office on January 20, 1945. By then, Roosevelt had had numerous moments of serious incapacitation, though the campaign had seemed to revive his vigor. Truman, who had met FDR for an opportunity to be photographed with him was not briefed by Roosevelt on the events affecting either foreign or domestic affairs. To most Americans, he was a blank slate, but he turned out to be a successful President and was returned to office in the next election.
Nearly seventy years ago, Americans were both alike and very different from those today. The era of Big Government that FDR ushered in during the course of the Great Depression is now one in which the government’s huge debt and deficit, and the flagging economy are issues that will likely decide the outcome of the elections in November 2012.
Having imposed term limits on the presidency, the time is long overdue for term limits on members of Congress as well. They are, however, not likely to vote themselves out of office. That remains the job of the American voter.