Second term clouds
Rarely have second terms lived up to the hopes and expectations of presidents or their electorates.
FDR's began with an attempt to pack the Supreme Court by adding new justices and a second Depression of 1937. He was rescued only by the war in Europe in 1939 and the GOP's nomination of Wendell Willkie.
What can be called Truman's second term was a disaster. In 1949, the Soviets exploded an atom bomb and China fell to Mao. In 1950, the Rosenbergs were convicted as spies and North Korea invaded the South, igniting a three-year war Truman could not win or end.
In his second term, Eisenhower did better, but suffered a GOP defeat in 1958, saw Fidel Castro seize Cuba in 1959, and had a U-2 shot down by Russia in 1960 and his Paris summit blown up by Nikita Khrushchev.
The Kennedy-Johnson second term began spectacularly, with passage of all the Great Society legislation. But in 1966, LBJ's party suffered huge losses. In 1968, that year of assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, of race riots, campus anarchy, anti-war protests and an endless war in Vietnam, LBJ quit the race.
Nixon did not survive his second term. Carter did not get a second term.
Reagan comes close to being the exception. While he lost 10 Senate seats in 1986, he cut income tax rates and his summiteering with Mikhail Gorbachev led to America's victory in the Cold War. The Iran-Contra scandal almost broke his presidency. But by the time Reagan left in 1989, his popularity had been restored.
George H.W. Bush was denied a second term. And the main event of Bill Clinton's was his impeachment and Senate trial for the Monica Lewinsky affair.
In his second term, George W. Bush lost his battle for Social Security reform and lost both houses of Congress in 2006, ending his presidency with America mired in two unwinnable wars and plunging into a near depression.
About Obama's second term it is hard to be sanguine.
The hopeful news is that the U.S. economy appears to be recovering. The perils, however, are visibly present. With its massive creation of money, the Federal Reserve is taking an immense risk that as recovery takes root, inflation may explode. And the hostility between President Obama and House Republicans likely means no deal to constrain future deficits. Obama added $5 trillion to America's debt bomb in his first term, and his second promises the same.
Iraq is drifting toward sectarian-civil-ethnic war. Few are optimistic about the fate of Syria. Even fewer are optimistic about Afghanistan. Islamism and Islamist terrorism seem to be growth stocks. Escalating tensions between Japan and China are spawning a new nationalism in both nations, and warships and jet fighters have begun circling the Senkaku Islands.
The most immediate crisis may come this year, when Bibi Netanyahu and his allies demand of the president an ultimatum to Tehran, followed by U.S. airstrikes on its nuclear facilities if Iran does not capitulate.
Obama may be dreaming of amnesty for illegal aliens and a federal gun registry, but most of us would settle for no more wars and no double-dip recession.
Remarkable how the expectations of Americans seem so modest. Today, the slogan “General Motors is alive, and Osama bin Laden is dead!” is enough to get you re-elected president.
Pat Buchanan is the author of “Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?”