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Frankfurter Rundschau, Germany

The Curse of the Second Term


By Damir Fras

Translated By Ron Argentati

9 November 2012

Edited by Vic­to­ria Denholm


Germany - Frankfurter Rundschau - Original Article (German)

Obama has a problem: Second terms are dangerous. Roosevelt, Nixon, Reagan and Clinton could all tell stories about that. But Obama also has great opportunities, so stay tuned!

Thank God the election is finally over. Fortunately, President Obama has been re-elected. He succeeded against the most expensive and ruthless Republican election apparatus in history, against string-puller extraordinaire Karl Rove and the super PACs. Now, he can get on with implementing his policies and defending the successes of his first term.

However, he does have one problem: the curse of the second term. Some time back, after they had just finished one glass too many at a Washington bar, a few journalists and historians got to talking about just what can go wrong once the re-election party is over. This curse has caught some of the greatest presidents and some of the not-so-great ones as well. Let's take a look.

First there was Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was angry with the Supreme Court for ruling that several of his programs were unconstitutional. During his second term, Roosevelt wanted to appoint justices who would agree with his platform. That didn't go over well. Segments of his own party would not even go along with that.

Then there was Richard Nixon who, with no justification whatsoever, decided that in order to avoid losing the 1972 election, it would be advisable to break into Democratic Party headquarters to spy on their strategy secrets. Not much came out of that, save for a lot of fame and success for the journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who broke the scandal that resulted in cutting Nixon's second term short by two years.

Ronald Reagan came under pressure after his triumphant victory in 1984 because of the Iran-Contra affair. His administration had used money earned from selling weapons to Iran in order to support the Contra guerilla movement in Nicaragua against the Sandinista government—a veritable scandal.

Lastly, there was Bill Clinton, loved in his own time and loved even still today, who unfortunately decided to give some of that love back to a White House intern. Congress appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the case, which resulted in several months of extreme discomfort for the President.

A second term can also be dangerous if the president ignores opposition or acceptable boundaries because his re-election has made him overconfident. This is probably true, although Roosevelt was re-elected despite his arrogant attitude, but then there were no term limits in those days. Nixon ended the war in Vietnam and continued his detente with China before leaving office. In hindsight, Reagan has become a near mythical figure for many Americans and will probably have his likeness carved into Mount Rushmore before too long. Bill Clinton is so popular today that he became the key campaign figure in Obama's re-election success.

The second term curse probably won't be so bad for the always cautious and carefully calculating Obama. He does have several concrete problems like the “fiscal cliff” (that he will probably not fall over), but he also has many opportunities to enact his plans because his political foes are now in disarray. The Republicans will need some time to recover from the electoral debacle they just suffered. They are faced with mainly sociopolitical questions dealing with immigration and women's rights. They know why they lost the election and which voters they have to woo for the future.

Obama also learned something from his re-election, which is that there may now be such a thing as a second term blessing—both for the President and for the American people. After we take a short breather this blog will track all the developments, so stay tuned!



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