Curse of the second term leaves US presidents as lame ducks

Almost exactly one year later and with the administration in high anxiety over the threat of criminal charges being filed this week at the end of the CIA leak investigation, talk of the curse has inevitably resurfaced. Mr Bush has fallen foul of the same spell that so many of his two-term predecessors suffered.

If anyone in his administration's inner circle - notably his political aide Karl Rove or the chief of staff to Vice-President Dick Cheney, Libby Lewis - are slapped with indictments in "Plamegate" the political damage for Mr Bush will be severe. For Mr Cheney it could be more ruinous.

But even without the Valerie Plame affair, consider the wider range of Mr Bush's troubles. While it is true that an important energy bill and a free-trade pact with Central America have both been passed this year, elsewhere his agenda is, at best, in limbo. Items on hold include his pledge to reform Social Security, to eliminate death duties in the US and to extend his round of tax cuts. His poll ratings are miserable.

The economy, with rising interest rates and faster- rising energy costs, are contributing to the slide. So too is the perception that his administration badly mishandled the Hurricane Katrina crisis. On top of that, a stink of scandal has settled on Republicans in Congress. The former House majority leader Tom DeLay is under indictment and the Senate leader, Bill Frist, is under investigation on stock trading suspicions.

History tells us none of this should be a surprise. Dwight Eisenhower's second term is remembered only for its empty record. Watergate meant Richard Nixon didn't finish his second term at all. Ronald Reagan's return to the White House was marred by Iran-Contra. Then there were Bill Clinton's embarrassments thanks to a liaison with a certain blue-dressed intern.

Part of what has vanished since last year is the famed discipline of the Bush White House and the Republican Party. It is partly because Mr Bush will not be on the ballot in 2008 that some Republicans on Capitol Hill no longer feel obliged to support him slavishly. That's the lame-duck curse. Conservative members are wounding Mr Bush most notably over his nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court.

"It's not unusual that lawmakers are not vigorously defending Bush", remarked Stephen Wayne, a presidential scholar at Georgetown University. "Before presidents are lame ducks, there is a sitting-ducks tendency. This is part of a natural cycle called the second-term curse." He noted that conservative-leaning Southern Democrats all but abandoned Bill Clinton in his second term.

"The Republicans have been unusually well-co-ordinated and cohesive because they decided it was the best way to get everyone re-elected," said Ronald Peters, a congressional scholar at the University of Oklahoma. "We saw this in 2002 and 2004. But all that changes when the President is no longer on the ballot."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The beat is on: Alfred Doda, Gjevat Kelmendi and Orli Shuka in ‘Hyena’
filmReview: Hyena takes corruption and sleaziness to a truly epic level
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable