A president is barred by his country’s constitution from having more than two terms. So he has his best friend and most loyal associate become his party’s candidate for president.
That scenario describes the president of Russia, but also Bill Clinton, who was described by a former New York City congressman, John Le Boutillier, as the “American Putin.”
Before this presidential election year, Clinton had joined George H.W. Bush in promoting disaster and hunger relief and other international charitable causes in Asia and Africa. Clinton, already a popular figure in the world, had enhanced his image as a world statesman.
Now he has sullied that perception as he supplanted the image of a respected former president for that of a pit bull by savaging his wife’s opponent, Barack Obama. As Newsweek’s editor in chief, Evan Thomas, wrote, “His badgering and baiting her principal opponent” is a naked attempt to do something truly unprecedented, “an unelected, unofficial but nonetheless true co-presidency.”
It will be the first time in history that the White House will have two presidents in residence, both attending cabinet meetings and national security council sessions.
The former president, to get back the White House in Clinton’s hands, has manifested a lust for power. They are evident in his petulant sneers at the press and his snide attacks of his wife’s opponent (“another Jesse Jackson”) and his phone calls to superdelegates. Once he had the reputation as the first “black” president for his appointment of so many blacks to executive positions. But the legacy he will now leave is as one who tried to sabotage the possible election of the first black president.
It is the first time in history that a president has emerged from retirement as an elder statesman to hurl himself into a frenetic campaign for a presidential candidacy.
There is good reason.
It is the first time a president is campaigning for his wife, as Alabama Gov. George Wallace campaigned for his wife Lurleen to succeed him.
True, George H.W. Bush made private fundraising appearances for his son in 2000. But never once did he personally criticize John McCain, Al Gore, or John Kerry. For that matter, he never made any public statements that expressed opposition to his successor’s (Bill Clinton's) policies.
This idea of a co-presidency won’t work.
In 1980, at the Republican convention in Detroit, Gov. Reagan considered making former President Gerald Ford his running mate for vice president in a kind of co-presidency. It was soon dismissed as the makings of a constitutional nightmare.
Our founding fathers, such as James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 saw perils in a dual presidency. For that reason, the Constitution gave the vice-presidency almost no duties, except for presiding over the Senate.
The father of our country, George Washington, set a precedent that lasted for 150 years by refusing to run for a third term. Succeeding presidents, such as Andrew Jackson and Ulysses Grant, did not run for a third term.
George Washington did not want to die in office, and he did not want to set a precedent that its presidents, like kings, would leave office only in death.
He had turned down an offer from Continental Army officers to be king years before the Constitutional Convention. George Washington wanted America to be a democracy, not a dynasty. But to have a pair of Clintons elected (after 12 years) would be exactly that — the making of dynastic successors.
The 22nd Amendment to the Constitution after World War II was intended to prevent future presidents from running for three (or four terms) as FDR did. Clinton once denounced that amendment, saying he could have won a third term.
Now he is trying to circumvent that amendment, or at the very least defeat the spirit of it, by this “Billary” campaign to regain the White House. It is a campaign that can be funded by unreported donors to the Clinton library. A half billion dollars has been given by Arabs and Chinese, as well as other private interests who want to influence his wife, Hillary Clinton, as president.
I have in my house a campaign pin from 1940 — NO THIRD TERM. My father wore it to protest FDR breaking the rule set by George Washington to serve only two terms. I may have to get out that pin and wear it this fall.
James C. Humes is professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. A former White House speechwriter, he is the author of "The Wit And Wisdom Of Ronald Reagan." "The Wit and Wisdom of F.D.R." is due out March 1.
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