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The Six-Year Rule: Why U.S. Presidents Have Such Short Shelf Lives

08/05/2013 09:08 EDT | Updated 10/04/2013 05:12 EDT

Is this the beginning of the end for Barack Obama? What with the NSA scandal, the Benghazi affair, and the IRS targeting of Tea Party groups, it looks like the President has enough problems on his plate to bring his administration to a grinding halt.

For students of history, all this should come as no surprise. After all, the last 50 years have provided more than enough evidence to support the "six-year rule."

What is the six-year rule, you ask? Well, it's a simple arithmetic formula that dictates that an American president has run his effective course after six years in office. After that, he's pretty well useless and might as well step down.

For those who are skeptical, just look at the historical record. Richard Nixon was elected in 1968. Six years later, he became the first president to take a national perp walk and resign from office in the wake of the Watergate scandal.

Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980 and in six years his administration was weighed down by the Iran-Contra affair. While Ronnie dodged a bullet with his folksy "I can't remember" defence, lots of his underlings took the fall.

Bill Clinton was elected in November of 1992. His sixth anniversary in 1998 found him with his literal and metaphorical pants around his ankles, admitting an inappropriate relationship with Monica Lewinsky and facing only the second impeachment trial in American history.

More recently, George W. Bush was kind-of-elected in 2000. By 2006, he had made a monstrous hash of things with two treasury-draining wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and an economy headed for calamity thanks to ill-advised tax giveaways.

It seems pretty obvious that six years is the limit for effective governance by a U. S. president. His first term is full of grand attempts to "make a difference," "change the future," and "win one for the Gipper."

Despite failing to achieve most of those goals, he starts his second term with scaled back ambitions and more realistic expectations. But by then, it's too late. He has already been mired in the political swamp known as Washington, D. C., and most likely has fallen prey to any number of temptations, be they political, financial, or sexual, or any combination of the three.

Those last two years in office for a two-term president are, at best, absent of accomplishment and, at worst, a downhill slide that, in recent years, left us with the Great Recession. At this stage, the president is usually labelled a lame duck, although dead duck would be more like it.

No matter how the final two years play out, one thing's for certain: it's never beneficial for the American people. Either they have a president hamstrung and impotent or they're saddled with a leader who doubles down on harmful policies thereby leaving the country in even worse shape.

Given this seemingly inevitable six-year slide from hope to despair, what's a citizenry to do? As it stands, it won't be long before President Obama is in his sixth year with the predictable certainty that he'll be up to his political eyeballs in scandal, corruption, and incompetence.

There's really not much we can do right now to avoid this upcoming train wreck. With rare exception, the incumbent is not likely to accept the obvious and resign unless, like Richard Nixon, he can read the ten-foot writing on the wall.

Sadly, we'll likely just have to ride it out and hope for the best in the next presidential election. But we can change things for the future by amending the Constitution to restrict the president to one six-year term.

That's the rule Mexico has had in place for over a hundred years and we can see how well it's worked out for them. But seriously, if they hadn't had that restriction, Mexico would almost certainly be in even worse shape today.

Half a dozen years is more than enough for an incumbent to give it his best shot. By then, he's accomplished all he's ever going to get done and is well on his way to screwing up everything else. Time to pull the plug and let the next clown try his hand.

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