Bill Adair: Second Terms Almost Never Successful





Historian Don Ritchie racked his brain trying to remember the last president with a successful second term.

"Hmmmmmmmn," he said. "It wasn't Johnson . . . Ike had the U-2 . . . Truman had the Korean War . . . ."

Ritchie, the associate historian for the U.S. Senate, kept thinking. Not Franklin Roosevelt, who struggled because of his plan to pack the Supreme Court. And Abraham Lincoln and William McKinley were assassinated in their second terms.

"You probably have to go back to Andrew Jackson," Ritchie said, "but even there, historians would argue that there were some big blotches in his second term."

Indeed, life after re-election is no picnic. Presidents face the same external challenges as in their first four years - natural disasters, wars, recessions - but they are weakened by their lame-duck status and sometimes overconfidence because of their electoral victory.

They can no longer blame their problems on their predecessors. In addition, their most talented staffers are often gone and those that remain are burned out.

Leon Panetta, former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, said the problems can overshadow a president's accomplishments.

"The second term turns into a real trap that destroys whatever legacy you have built in the first four years," he said.

President Bush is facing a bad case of the second-term blues. A top White House aide has been indicted, charged with obstruction of justice and lying to a grand jury and federal agents. Bush's first choice for a Supreme Court vacancy, Harriet Miers, was forced to withdraw after weeks of sharp criticism from his own party. And although the economy has been growing, a spike in energy prices this summer hit consumers hard.
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