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Bing Crosby on the single six-year presidential term

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Must Be Some Kind of Record

Quick, guess how many different Republicans have led in the presidential polls since the race started? (Hint: It’s a lot.) Bonus points if you can name them all. Find the answers at the end of this column.

One Term or Two?

Little-known fact about Spokane’s own Bing Crosby — as a student at Gonzaga High School and later the University, he excelled at elocution and debate. In those days, they held public speaking contests, and according to the school magazine, Gonzaga (which was published between 1910-22), Crosby showed early signs of captivating an audience in 1919 at St. Aloysius Hall when he recited Poe’s “The Bells” to great acclaim. He finished his evening, Gonzaga documents, in a debate over whether the president should be limited to a single, six-year term.

When I read that passage in Gary Giddins’ A Pocketful of Dreams, it felt like déjà vu. I’ve been thinking about that same thing for years.

So have a lot of people, it turns out. The idea actually predates Bing — by a lot. It was brought to a vote during the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and failed. Jimmy Carter and a dozen other presidents came to embrace the reform. Even de Tocqueville saw America’s future when he commented that “the desire to be re-elected is the chief aim of the president.”

Think about it: You are elected president, and instead of the 18- to 24-month honeymoon, it would be more like four or five years. Without the hyper-partisanship of a looming election, a president could actually take some tough stands and get some work done. Especially after a term like this, where opponents in Congress have sat on their hands, it might be time to reconsider this change — which has been proposed in Congress hundreds of times since 1826.

Not everyone agrees. In 1986, the historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. argued against the idea in the New York Times. “A single six-year term would release presidents from the test of submitting their records to the voters,” Schlesinger wrote. “It would enshrine the ‘president-knows-best’ myth, which has already got us into sufficient trouble as a nation.” He also pointed out that George Washington thought America should not, by law, deny itself good leadership.

Crosby, for the record, argued against the single six-year term in his debate all those years ago.

And the Answer is…

Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Rudy Giuliani, Chris Christie, Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Donald Trump, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney. Each of these 11 people polled the highest nationally among Republican presidential contenders at least once starting in the spring of 2009.

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