Ted Rall is an idiot. Honestly, I’ve never liked the guy and always felt he was a bad smear on liberals. Had Ted Rall not existed, Karl Rove would have invented him. He’s the conservative answer to Maggie Gallagher, and I say that as someone who has had the misfortune of exchanging a few emails with Gallagher. In short, I don’t like Ted Rall.
And while I’d never seek him out, I happened to see a headline in Yahoo for one of his columns titled: THE FIRST RULE OF REELECTION IS DON'T THINK ABOUT REELECTION. And I found that quite intriguing, as that sounded like a pretty stupid rule. And sure enough, after having read his column, I see that it was. And if anything, Rall got the rule backwards.
Apparently, it breaks down to this: Because most modern presidents have worse second terms than first terms, they should all act as if their first term was their second term, and everything should go smoothly. But...if it’s the second term that’s the problem, shouldn’t they do the exact opposite? Because if there is a second term curse, it has to do with hubris and the feeling by presidents that they no longer have to follow the polls or obey the wishes of the people, because they’re not up for re-election anymore.
It's the Term-Limit, Stupid
Because if anything, it's term-limits that are the problem, as they detach the President from democracy. After all, the point of democracy isn't that it's the best way to pick leaders (as it clearly isn't). The point is to give citizens ownership of their system, so that they feel that they have control over their leaders and their fate. But of course, a term-limit gets rid of that completely. Once a president wins re-election, then he's essentially a four-year dictator. And so again, the problem isn't with re-elections, but rather the lack of re-election that screws everything up.
And so Rall’s advice for Obama is to do just that: Stop worrying what voters want him to do and start doing what Rall wants him to do. I’m serious. He even goes as far as suggesting that Carter was a great president because he was "thinking past the horizon," and that Reagan got credit for many of Carter's best ideas because they took awhile to hatch. And yeah, couldn't it be argued that this trait of Carter's gave us four years of Reagan, instead of, say, four more years of Carter? Wow, what a brilliant strategy.
And perhaps Obama can take Rall's advice so that Mitt Romney will someday receive the credit for all the hard work Obama did before 2012. Simply brilliant!
But of course, I find his argument for a second-term curse to be a bit weak. Reagan didn't become senile because it was his second term. He became senile because he was an old man and that's what happens to some people when they get older. And he cites Watergate for Nixon, but of course, the Watergate break-in occurred during Nixon's first term, it was only during his second term that he got caught and he had a long pattern of behavior on this sort of thing. Similarly, Clinton began his affair with Monica Lewinsky during his first term and it was over a few months into his second.
Overall, reading Rall's list of the "Second Term Curse" is like reading the threats at the end of a chain letter. Even if this stuff is true, it has more to do with coincidence than fate; and most of it is outright sham. He even mentions Truman and Johnson being hurt by their respective quagmire wars, even though these were continuing policies from their first terms that kept getting worse. And in Johnson's case, history tells me that he didn't seek re-election; though perhaps Rall's history differs. So in essence, these guys were hurt because of unpopular decisions in their first terms that became even less popular as time went by.
And no, Bush Sr didn't turn up in his column at all. Somehow, that one term president got ignored. But perhaps that was really Bush's second term and Rall forgot to tell anyone about it. Nor does Rall ever mention that Clinton was more popular in his second-term than his first. Any fact that doesn't fit into Rall's stupid rule gets chucked; and that's a lot of facts.
And then there's his lengthy mention of Bush's disastrous second-term, which only disproves his point. Bush's second term was so horrible because he didn't need to worry about re-election and could finally start doing the business he wanted to. Somehow, Rall's history suggests that Bush's plan to privatize Social Security was "abandoned and forgotten" due to Katrina and problems in Iraq. But my history tells me privatization was doomed because it was extremely unpopular, so much so that he wouldn't even talk about it until he secured re-election.
Same for some other unpopular decisions that hurt him with conservatives, like the Harriet Miers nomination and the Dubai port brouhaha. And these issues were abandoned due to all the Republican Congressmen who were still up for re-election. It wasn't some mystical curse that doomed Bush. It was an unpopular agenda that was only stopped because Congress doesn't have term-limits. The people spoke, and it was good.
And again, this only makes sense. Because democracy isn't the best way to pick leaders, or we certainly wouldn't have ended up with Bush. The purpose of democracy is to allow citizens to hold their leaders accountable in order to make people feel that they control the government that controls them. It's about giving people an ownership stake in the system. And if there's a second-term curse, it's because we've removed that ownership stake from the system and given the president a freer hand to do whatever they like without fear of repercussions.
Rall's Radical Agenda
Now, I'm not sure why Rall imagines this is a good thing, other than that he's a radical who knows his ideas aren't popular. And while I have nothing against radicals and think they serve a real purpose in life, they shouldn't be running the show. Nor should they be giving advice to folks who are running the show. In fact, Bush's biggest problems weren't when he was being popular, but when he was listening to the radicals who told him to be bold, rather than popular. And how bold, radical decisions will lead to popularity. And even when it was obvious that popularity would elude him, he was told that history would be the real judge of his presidency.
And that's the exact advice the idiot Rall is giving to Obama. For myself, I just hope that Obama does all the things he said he'd do to get elected, as that's what people want and expect. But that's clearly the point of Rall's column, as he insists that Obama's plans aren't radical enough. For all of Rall's differences with Bush, Rove, and Cheney, it's obvious they share one thing in common: The belief that the presidency is a four-year dictatorship.
And that's why I'm damn glad that none of those four are up for election this year. We've had enough radicalism over the past eight years to last us the next eighty years. Now it's time to get back to the way things were.