Thursday, July 21, 2016

The third term

Not since the first George Bush succeeded the only Ronald Reagan has the same Party held the Executive branch of the US government for more than two elected terms. With the prospect of Barack Obama’s being succeeded by a Democrat, many complain of his two terms these days less for their character, much less for any possible decline, than for a sense of supernumeration which this would represent. It is expedient, for them, to intone the words, “third term,” with an air of being affronted. 

But in this projected succession there is another third term being proposed, to which its putative claimant is only too merry to stipulate. Possibly, the Constitutional ban on the practice exerts a special appeal to the pride of outwitting it, as a kind of glass ceiling for suckers. The 42nd President was elected to two terms and served their entirety, overcoming a show of some resistance to his completing the second. But that President had always taken care, as this new claimant in his Party does so often now, to proclaim that there were two holders of that office simultaneously. 

The Constitutional restraint against a third term for just such a Presidency is more prophetic than we seem to notice. The 22nd Amendment applies in relevant part to a “person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected.” It speaks of a person, which is to say, without excluding any unelected person, because the restraint is intended to apply to every person. The present Democratic claimant to the office is candid to confess to having acted as President for two terms, and is candid to confess to enlisting the person who was elected to those terms to serve again, sometimes to be “in charge of reviving the economy,” sometimes to be “in charge” of actual Presidential duties, as may pop up.

It will be objected, that this is a semantic observation. It will be objected, that this is a “sexist” observation, besmirching the autonomy of one conjugal partner from another. But it cannot be protested, that the writers of this proscription would have left those objections any breath, if they had anticipated its flouting by two persons united for life. 

This is not to say, it would be unwise to lend the experience of the law a little exercise in contemporary conduct. It is only to construe the law by the intent of its framers, as revealed in its text. Far be it from this page to be hidebound by strict construction, especially where the Party which rejects this candidacy so imaginatively is attached so pathologically to that philosophy, without having struck upon this unambiguous definition of the candidacy’s self-described illegitimacy. How seldom, indeed, has anyone else ever been so qualified to be President, Mrs Woodrow Wilson episodically aside.

On the contrary. I agree, the Constitution is a device to commend, sometimes to deplore, conduct which we know we have the power to absolve by politics, by vote or by other transactions. Our strictest constructionists have shown this repeatedly. And 2016 speaks to no political reality more starkly, than the power of ethical ingenuity to exert the will over any construct of constancy in its way. In-evitably, there may be cognitive irritation, along that path, and just as its clarity seems so dazzling.

ii  Hedi Slimane

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