Second-term blues?

The always recommended Burt Folsom poses the question “Who was the last president to have a great second term?” and you’ll never guess who – none other than Calvin Coolidge (some might claim his second term wasn’t really that, as his “first term” consisted of serving out his predecessor’s term). As Folsom goes down the list of two-termers since Coolidge, it becomes clear that second terms have a way of being a letdown. While circumstances and events were different in each of those cases, there is little doubt that re-elected presidents usually have an eye on their legacy, which unfortunately often means the creation of projects and programs that saddle future generations with snowballing costs. It is a safe bet that Barack Obama will try to leave a progressive legacy, and not follow the restrained course of Coolidge, but a gridlocked Congress and the lack of a true mandate may mean that his leeway in shaping his legacy turns out to be somewhat constrained.  If a costly legacy is what he has in mind, there is hope that his second term will join the list of failed second terms that are a letdown for presidents but a respite for the nation.

2 thoughts on “Second-term blues?

  1. Grave disappointments
    “An examination of the records of those Presidents who have served eight years will disclose that in almost every instance the latter part of their term has shown very little in the way of constructive accomplishment. They have often been clouded with grave disappointments.”
    – Calvin Coolidge / Autobiography

    I can think of no exceptions to the above – after Coolidge.

    • Jim,
      why didn’t I think of quoting that? One really wonders if there is any other reason besides an inflated sense of self-importance that keeps presidents from quitting while they’re ahead (i.e., after one term). In a way, this is just what Coolidge did, “choosing” not to run when he almost certainly would have won re-election. There may have been many reasons for that, but I feel one of them is that Coolidge did not think in terms of his legacy or his greatness.

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