January 18, 2013
By Michael Collins
WASHINGTON - No matter what President Barack Obama tries to accomplish in the next four years, one of his biggest challenges might be avoiding the kind of missteps that have tripped up many of his predecessors in their second terms.
Richard Nixon resigned amid the Watergate scandal. Ronald Reagan got entangled in the Iran-Contra debacle. Bill Clinton was impeached over a different kind of affair. George W. Bush became more deeply mired in the Iraq war and faced the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
The second-term curse has bedeviled presidents as far back as George Washington, who grew tired of battling a persnickety Congress, and Abraham Lincoln, who was assassinated just weeks into his second term.
“Most presidents who serve two terms have had some kind of profound crisis within the second term,” said Peter Kastor, an American history professor at Washington University in St. Louis....
Another explanation for second-term woes may be simple exhaustion -- on the part of both the president and the public, said Jeffrey Engel, director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
“The battles that are required to achieve victory in domestic politics in particular are simply tiring and unappealing after five, six, seven years,” Engel said.
A year or two into a president’s second term, the American public starts to lose interest in the current occupant of the White House as the focus shifts to who his successor will be.
“People grow tired of a person’s act in the second term,” Engel said....