'Second-term curse' next challenge for President Obama
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With the presidential election in his rearview mirror, President Obama can look forward to a second term. But winning the presidency was just one obstacle he had to overcome. Now the president faces what historians and commentators call the “second-term curse.” Wichita State University political scientist Ken Ciboski explains why many presidents struggle in their second term.
More often than not, second terms are less successful than first terms. Franklin Delano Roosevelt lost his hold on Congress with his 1937 plan to pack the Supreme Court. Ronald Reagan faced the 1986 Iran-contra scandal. Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998. Richard Nixon resigned to avoid that fate in 1974. As Ciboski points out, significant accomplishments by second-term presidents are few and far between.
Ciboski: “You know, actually second-term presidents don’t do well on the domestic agenda side of things. They maybe have some foreign policy accomplishments. They might get an arms agreement or perhaps as President Eisenhower did in his second term -- he went to Little Rock with troops, kept a high school open and desegregated it -- things like that, just some kind of minor accomplishments.”
It also seems that second-term presidents believe they have a mandate, as Ciboski explains.
Ciboski: “Presidents who get elected for a second term often think they have a mandate, and they feel that the people voted for them, maybe even more overwhelmingly than they did the first time, then they have a mandate. And people vote for a candidate for president for a lot of different reasons, so it may not be for the reason that the president thinks. And so they don’t often have success even when they think they have a mandate.”
Ciboski says it’s hard to say whether President Obama will fall victim to the so-called second-term curse, particularly with so many new advisers and appointments.
Ciboski: “Yes, in a second term, say, for example President Obama, he’s going to lose many of his key advisers and Cabinet post people. And the question is, who will replace them? I mean, these people have memory. They have experience. They went through the rigors of the first term, so it’s going to be difficult to replace them with people who have a memory and can advise the president properly on what he should or should not do.”
Ciboski said Obama had some significant success, but spent a lot of political capital during his first term.
Ciboski: “President Obama during his first term, for example, his universal medical health care program. He said, ‘Let’s get that passed, no excuses, get it done.’ So that was a big thing for the first term. And that’s when presidents really kind of use up their political capital, which I think he did with most members of the Congress, especially the Republican side. So, now he goes into a second term, and he may get something like maybe gun control, or something along those lines, but that remains to be seen. But on the domestic side they usually don’t do very well.”
In reality, Ciboski says a president usually has to get most of what he wants to accomplish in the first two years of his first term.
Ciboski: “Presidents usually have to get most of what they want done in their first term, and especially in the first two years because oftentimes they’ll bring their own party in with them in the Congress. And when that mid-term election comes along, as was the case with President Obama, it can change its political makeup when the Republicans took control of the House, and the Democrats didn’t have nearly such a margin as they had before in the Senate.”
Some pundits say second-term presidents are lame ducks, facing would-be successors in the opposition and in their own party. In addition, many things are outside the control of a second-term president. For example, President Obama has to work with a deeply partisan Congress and that could make accomplishments few and far between.
Thanks for listening. Until next time, this is Joe Kleinsasser for Wichita State University.