With big majorities telling pollsters that they believe Barack Obama’s first term has pointed America decisively in the wrong direction, advocates of his re-election must promise the public that another four years would represent a dramatic improvement.
But to keep that vow the president must overcome a “second-term curse,” which constitutes one of the iron rules of the American presidency. Since the origins of the Republic, every re-elected president met with more frustrations and fewer notable triumphs in a second term than in his first.
Few left unscathed
The record of rocky, often scandal-plagued second terms applied even to the most admired chief executives, very much including George Washington (who coped with a rebellion in Pennsylvania and the hugely unpopular Jay’s Treaty); Thomas Jefferson (whose Embargo Act left him widely reviled); James Madison (who saw the White House burned by Brits and New England states talking secession); Grover Cleveland (who presided over the devastating Depression of 1893); Woodrow Wilson (who suffered a stroke and rejection of his League of Nations plans); and even FDR (who experienced the “Little Depression” of 1937-38, the disastrous “court packing” plan, and huge congressional gains for the GOP opposition before seeking his unprecedented third term in 1940).
Republican heroes Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan both suffered major scandals in their second terms (with the resignation of Ike’s top aide Sherman Adams and Reagan’s humiliating Iran-Contra debacle) as well as devastating congressional losses to the Democrats. More dramatically, Richard Nixon went from triumphant re-election (carrying 49 states in 1972) to resignation in disgrace midway through his second term, while Bill Clinton’s return trip to the White House also produced painful polarization and an impeachment crisis.
Most recently, George W. Bush’s initiatives for Social Security and immigration reform both collapsed in his second term, before Hurricane Katrina, a Democratic takeover of Congress and the economic meltdown of 2008 shattered his standing with the public.
Abraham Lincoln and William McKinley (two popular presidents who had just led the nation to victory in major wars) never confronted the second-term reverses afflicting other chief executives because assassins’ bullets claimed both of them within six months of their second inaugurations.
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SOURCE: USA Today