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Worm in the Constitution

August 01, 1986

Back in the late 1940s, when Republicans were promoting the adoption of the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, it seemed that never again would the nation have so strong, so popular, so commanding a leader as "That Man," Franklin D. Roosevelt. And if one came along, Republicans wanted to make sure that such a person could never serve more than two terms as President of the United States.

The worm, as usual, turns. The amendment, which went into force in 1951, first prevented Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower from seeking a third term, should he have wanted to. Now it is effective a second time, barring Republican Ronald Reagan from running again.

The Republicans are right: The 22nd Amendment should be repealed. There should be no illusions, however, that this is a way to get Ronald Reagan to seek another four years in office.

Reagan, to his credit, began talking about repeal in press interviews some time ago. More recently the President has promoted the idea in public speeches. But, after tantalizing his audiences for a moment, he makes it clear that his proposal should not, and would not, apply to him. Nevertheless, Rep. Guy Vander Jagt (R-Mich.) has launched a campaign with the impractical and impossible goal of changing the Constitution in time to make Reagan eligible for a third term.

Given the President's firm declaration on the matter--and Democratic control of the U.S. House and sufficient state legislatures--one can assume that Vander Jagt's drive is a fund-raising gimmick. He has sent a mailing to 300,000 Republicans asking for money to assist in the campaign. The recipients would be well advised to save their cash for more practical pursuits.

Nevertheless, now is the time to start the repeal movement, with the provision that the new amendment would not apply to the incumbent in office at the time the amendment was ratified, just as the 22nd Amendment would not have barred Harry S. Truman from running again in 1952. Only in extraordinary circumstances would Americans be willing to give a President a third term. But those are precisely the circumstances under which the nation might need a strong, experienced executive the very most.

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