Published March 1974 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd Voters Can Be Trusted With the Decision Watergate has focused new attention upon the length of the presidential term and the number of terms a President may serve. Suggestions have been heard that the four-year term should be lengthened to a single six-year term; and it has also been suggested that a President be limited to one four-year term. Until the time of Franklin D. Roosevelt, there was no limit upon the number of times a President might serve. The framers of the Constitution recognized that a U.S. President should have at least four years to do his job, and they wisely left it up to the judgment of the people as to whether he should be reelected. Critics of Roosevelt, the only President to serve more than two terms, pushed through the 22nd Amendment limiting a President to two terms. They argued that a President's power and his ability to sway public opinion had grown so great that he could be reelected indefinitely. They failed to recognize that the reverse could be true, and that public opinion could operate against the President. We are seeing that now, and it was evidenced also in the administrations of Lyndon Johnson and Harry Truman, both of whom declined to seek another term. In my judgment, the two four-year terms are preferable to any other arrangement- unless it be a return to the original Constitutional provision. One six-year term, or a single four-year term, might free a President from political considerations involved in his decision-making. But should a President, or any other elected official in a representative government, make dictator-like decisions without regard to the political consequences or the people's wishes-which he might do if limited to one term? An incumbent President has advantages when he runs for reelection, it is true-but not unless he enjoys public confidence and support. To argue for one term, whatever the length, is to argue against the ability of the people to judge performance in office and against the concept underlying democratic elections. If voters have the right to return, or not to return, other elected officials such as Senators and Congressmen, should they not also have the right to pass upon a President's fitness for reelection?