Bill Clinton and the Politics of Second Terms

By Nelson, Michael | Presidential Studies Quarterly, Fall 1998 | Go to article overview

Bill Clinton and the Politics of Second Terms


Nelson, Michael, Presidential Studies Quarterly


A president's second term almost invariably turns out to be less successful than the first term. Historians may argue about whether the second terms of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, and Grover Cleveland fit this pattern.(1) But in the era of the modern presidency, second terms have been disappointing experiences for all of the presidents who have earned them. Although only Richard Nixon left office in disgrace, each of his two-term colleagues--Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan--found their second terms to be less productive than their first terms.(2) In this way, at least, Bill Clinton's second term, so unusual in other ways, likely will prove no exception to the rule.(3)

The Anomaly of Second-Term Disappointment

Why do second terms tend to be disappointing? After all, one might easily expect the opposite to be so. The second-term president, who because of the Twenty-Second Amendment cannot run again, is free from the cares of reelection politics that many presidents regard as impediments to doing the best job possible. At least that is what they say when they endorse the proposal for a single, six-year presidential term, as several recent former presidents have done, including Eisenhower, Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter.(4)

More important, presidents begin their second terms with four years of on-the-job training. They are in the ascending phase of the "cycle of increasing effectiveness" that comes with experience in office. As Paul Light, the inventor of the concept, argues, "The presidential information base should expand; the president's personal expertise should increase. As the president and the staff become more familiar with the working of the office, there will be a learning effect."(5)

In many ways, Clinton has grown in the presidency, following the pattern of his long tenure as governor of Arkansas. His White House staff, hastily thrown together late in the transition period that followed the 1992 elections and correspondingly chaotic during the first two years of his presidency, gradually became more surefooted after he appointed Leon Panetta, then Erskine Bowles, as chief of staff and Mike McCurry as press secretary. The president himself gained confidence as commander in chief when he discovered that the public respected him for having the courage to make unpopular decisions, notably those that extended U.S. assistance to Bosnia, Haiti, and Mexico. (Privately, Clinton likened the public's response to "telling your children to go to the dentist--they don't want to go, but they know you're right."(6)) He learned how to deal with a professional, independently minded Congress after many years in which his only legislative experience was with the amateur legislature of Arkansas. Clinton's public deportment mirrored his growth. Out went the much-photographed jogging shorts and limp salutes, in came a straight, shoulders-back posture and, with some coaching, crisp salutes.

Offsetting these advantages of the second term, however, are more numerous and significant disadvantages for the president. In the remainder of this article, I describe these disadvantages, with special attention to Clinton, roughly in the order that they develop during a president's tenure in office.

Postponed Problems

During the second term, problems that were postponed from the first term because they were so controversial or intractable as to jeopardize the president's reelection come back to haunt the administration. During his first term, for example, Roosevelt downplayed his important constitutional differences with the Supreme Court for fear that he would lose support among voters who approved of his policies but would resent any attack on the independence of the Court. Nixon engaged in a massive cover-up of the Watergate affair to prevent it from sullying his reelection campaign. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Bill Clinton and the Politics of Second Terms
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.