Thursday, February 14, 2013

The 'second term' fallacy


Now that Obama need not worry about re-election, pundits claim that he can do what he wants. More social spending, less military adventurism, and a firm environmental policy are sure to follow. This is what I call the 'Second Term Fallacy," when applied to American Presidents. The truth is that when the President is bound to his party, then his ability to act is severely hampered by what the party dictates - even in the second term.

First let me clarify: the Fallacy is not as applicable when Presidents are party-free. If a President is Independent, then he can ostensibly do what he pleases in his second term. Since he does not have a party, he need not worry about its future image. Even in this case, however, there is a danger: re-election campaigns involve currying favours with special interest groups, which come back to haunt a second-term President. At any rate, we live in a world of political parties, so the Fallacy applies.

A political party, whether Democratic or Republican, is interested in preserving its long-term image. This reduces the President's agency in the second term. If Barack Obama were to implement much-needed tax reform, but made the Democratic Party seem 'radical' or 'dangerously leftist' in the process, then he would be dissuaded from doing it. And anyway his ability to act is hindered by Congress. If he were to make the party unappealing to special interests, then he can enjoy a disgraceful retirement, with little hope for his own future.

The second term is not all it is cracked up to be. This logic extends to any political situation where term limits are in effect: party logic and special interest politics prevent sound policies from being enacted. The solution is to devolve power, and to weaken special interests. In a 'liberal democracy,' this is nothing if not impossible. We are forever doomed to the persuasion of special interests.

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