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Jewish World Review August 7, 2001 / 18 Menachem-Av, 5761

Chris Matthews

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Consumer Reports

End presidential term limits! -- LET'S end the two-term limit on presidents, and let's do it quickly.

With Bill Clinton out-polling George W. Bush, why should the American people be denied their choice of chief executive? Why should a 22nd Amendment passed by Republicans to get even with Franklin Roosevelt stop 21st-century Americans from having the president we want?

Just look at the media jamboree attending Bill Clinton's return to the spotlight. All he did was open an office in Harlem, and it was like Napoleon just back from Elba, kissing the flag of France.

It's called democracy. People like leaders who are a) full of optimism and love of country, and b) don't think they're better than us.

By that standard, Bill Clinton certainly flunked a couple of second-term exams. He abused the office of the president on any number of occasions, from Mardi Gras-style fundraising in the Lincoln Bedroom to weird transactions with Monica behind the Oval Office. He tried making serfs of the American people by lying to our faces. Then he kissed his contributors with a billion-dollar pardon to Marc Rich.

But no one doubts that this guy loves not just the concept of America, but its nitty-gritty reality. Nobody has ever loved the crowds like this guy. Nobody, not even his worst enemy, can claim that Bill Clinton thinks he's morally or culturally better than us. This guy is MTV all the way.

That's why he won twice and why people -- I'm not just talking about Harlem -- would love to see him back in the saddle.

For Clinton to run again for president, we need to rid the Constitution of that nasty, let's-get-even amendment the Republicans jammed through after World War II. Just as the British thanked Winston Churchill for winning the war by dumping him as prime minister the first election after V-E Day, the Americans paid tribute to FDR by making sure that no one else got to repeat his 4-0 record in presidential elections.

You might have made a case for the 22nd back in the late 1940s. But that was before TV -- a time when a president could hide his paralysis in the beginning and his failing health toward the end. We can certainly agree that the man who met with Stalin at Yalta in February 1945 had the same strength of body as the leader who fought for Lend-Lease or rallied the country after Pearl Harbor.

Does anyone think that kind of cover-up would work in the days of cable television? Thanks to 24-7 TV, we have our presidents on camera continually. That's if they want to be on camera. If they don't, we notice that, too.

Ending the two-term ban is a very libertarian idea. "If you want to vote for someone, we shouldn't have a rule that tells them they can't." That's what Ronald Reagan said about the 22nd: "There are plenty of safeguards against the power of the presidency that would prevent him from becoming a lifetime monarch."

Liberal historian Arthur Schlesinger agrees: "Nothing makes a president more attentive to popular needs and concerns than the desire for re-election."

Though Reagan never wanted a third term, I can think of another popular president who could have made good use of one: Dwight Eisenhower. I doubt this great soldier-statesman would have put 500,000 American troops into Vietnam. He refused to bail out the French in the early '50s. He would have refused to get stuck there ourselves had he still been running things in the early '60s. The great thing about having received the Nazi surrender is that you don't have prove your military prowess.

As for Clinton, I voted for him twice and wish I hadn't the second time, but think this country could stand a jolt of pure democracy right now.

For that, parties need to have their best players on the field. And so does the country. I don't know about you, but I could live without another Bush-Gore go-at-'em.

We can kill that nightmare right now. We can end the two-term limit. We can rid the Constitution of this petty little provision. We can let the people decide whom they want as president.

And the beauty of the amendment process is that it doesn't require the president's signature, although it would be fascinating to hear what he thought of the idea.

JWR contributor Chris Matthews is the author of Hardball. and hosts a CNBC show of the same name. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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