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A sneak peak at the 2016 election

Dec 22, 2013 By Mark Shields

When electing a new president, we tend to choose one who has something his predecessor lacked.

A check of this year's record shows that in Galesburg, Ill., Palo Alto, Calif., Los Angeles, Miami Beach, Boston and on several occasions, Washington, President Barack Obama made the following statement: "I have run my last campaign."

Of course, that's not really news. The 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution -- passed in 1947 by a Republican Congress and ratified in 1951 by three-fourths of the states -- declares, "no person shall be elected to the office of president more than twice." So twice-elected Obama would not be able to run in 2016 for a third term (saying nothing of his recently falling poll numbers).

That Amendment is vivid proof of the "law of unintended consequences." Unable to defeat Franklin Delano Roosevelt in any of his four winning White House campaigns, Republicans, after his death in 1945, set off to exact posthumous vengeance on him by limiting all future presidents to two terms. The irony is that in the last 62 years, probably only two U.S. presidents -- if it had been legal and they had been willing -- could have run successfully for a third term in the White House. And both popular chief executives -- Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan (who, after leaving office, urged repeal of the amendment) -- were, as we recall, Republicans.

So if voters will be choosing a new commander in chief in 2016, what specific qualities will they be looking for? Be attentive, because I am about to share a dark secret of the "Secret Society of Political Pundits."

When a president's performance or conduct in office disappoints us, we look for a candidate who possesses qualities we regrettably learned were missing in the flawed predecessor.

Think about recent presidential elections. In 1976, after the criminality and corruption of Watergate and the failed presidency of Richard Nixon -- a man whose credentials included service as a congressman, senator and vice president -- former one-term Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter's total lack of Washington experience, along with his repeated pledge never to lie to the American people, were valued by the voters as real virtues.

Carter was honest, intelligent, hard-working and the least "imperial" of presidents.

But he seemed to change his mind an awful lot. So, after just one term and difficult economic times, voters overwhelmingly chose the self-confident Reagan, who had not changed his mind since 1964 -- if then. Again, voters were looking for what was missing in the president who had disappointed.

The same pattern was evident when Reagan's Republican successor, George H. W. Bush, was running for re-election in challenging economic times, and voters doubted the president fully understood the hardships they were undergoing. When Bush appeared confounded by the electronic scanner at the supermarket checkout, Democrat Bill Clinton persuaded voters: "I feel your pain." The electorate found the empathy they were seeking.

After eight years of George W. Bush, whose invasion and occupation of Iraq were viewed as unwise and unpopular like his response to Hurricane Katrina, and whose broken syntax had become a late-night punch line, voters embraced Obama's intellect, eloquence and early opposition to the Iraq War.

What about 2016? It's a good bet we'll be looking for a candidate who has successfully run something large like a state, has been able to work productively with political adversaries, and projects optimism that can inspire confidence about the nation's future.

Know anyone who qualifies?


Editor's note: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields is a former Marine who appears regularly on "Newshour" on PBS.

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