Second Chances and the Three Two-Term Phenom

Nov 06, 2012
By

I love presidential trivia. As we wait the results of an election that being hyped as one of the most consequential in American history, consider this piece of presidential esoterica that I discovered in the historical attic.

Should Barack Obama be reelected, it will be only the second time in American history that we've had three two-term presidents in a row. You have to go way back in the proverbial day -- Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe -- to ferret out the first and only such presidential trio.

Big deal, you say. Isn't this just another one of those mindless bits of presidential 411 that don't add up to much -- or anything at all? The presidential scholars and political scientists who do this stuff for a living might agree with you, writing this trend off as irrelevant.

After all, what could we possibly conclude from a set of three presidents -- in this case, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama? A set of three can't have any statistical or empirical validity or relevance, can it?

Probably not. But I still think it says something important about us and our presidents.

Americans have lost faith in their institutions, their politicians disappoint. Congress’s approval ratings are in single digits; and the media both reflects and powers a channeled polarization that drives millions of Americans to distraction -- echoing Howard Beale’s famous cry in Network that he just wasn’t going to take it anymore.

As we watch this three ring extravaganza and meltdown of our political culture 24/7, we react by craving a certain amount of predictability and stability in the only national office we all can actually vote for – the presidency. Presidents disappoint too. But in the presidency, despite its imperfections and the beating it’s taken over the years, we still want to see an office and those who hold it as the repositories of our hopes and aspirations.

And so enough of us are ready to forgive the flawed, the imperfect the disappointer in chief, in the hopes that maybe just maybe the initial bet we placed four years earlier wasn’t a total waste.  And so in a way we give that flawed first termer the benefit of the doubt and a chance to make good on what he promised and what we hoped for. And in doing so, in a way we take ourselves off the hook too and maintain faith and hope that there are better days ahead.