David Altman

The Limits of Power

American democracy has decided to limit the tenure of senior officials in the American administration. A president, governor or mayor is limited by the US Constitution to no more than two terms in office. This perception is rooted in the democratic concept that it is important that the tenure of functionaries with such wide authority should be limited to a finite number of years. An omnipotent leader may lose the required objectivity over the years, and thus, American democracy, followed by many other countries across the world, has seen fit to limit his or her tenure to eight years. This process often involves bidding farewell to a beloved, qualified and successful leader, but the democratic idea behind this decision is more powerful and important, and serves as an indicator to society of the need to limit power.

Nevertheless like any law, the boundaries become blurred over years and the ideals behind the legislation are forgotten, and society attempts to bend the rules and adapt them to the caprices of the rulers or the people, thus re-changing reality. The term limit is one of society’s most important laws, one that should be kept, because democracy that gives almost unlimited power to senior officials, including the president, must recognize the time limits that serve as a guarantee for the limits of power. In the United States, more than any other country, the president is elected to the most powerful position in the world. He is elected with his wife and family. The president’s wife is called the ‘First Lady’ not just as an honorary title, but as an official role, which includes a staff, assistants and others – according to the elected wife’s skills and tendencies. She serves side-by-side with the president in his appointment to the lofty position of President.

A president, as good as he may be, cannot continue to hold office after his overall time of service, because the American people have imposed a time limit. For the first time during the recent elections’ campaign, this law has been put to test without the American society daring to deal with this question courageously or to determine this issue without sweeping it under the carpet. Nominating a former president’s wife as a presidency candidate is a creative way of returning that president’s family to the powerful role that they previously held while he was the president.

There is no way that a person who served in this extremely important position can be a silent partner in his spouse’s policymaking – under the same roof and in the same role. In fact, electing a former president’s wife as president is an automatic extension of his terms in office, which is impossible under the American constitution.

Had Hillary Clinton been elected president – it would have been impossible to imagine her husband as a minor partner in Hillary’s campaign and establishment of this powerful position.

The American public cannot help but conducting a profound discussion on whether their democracy acknowledges such a reality, of having the same family in the White House for 12 or 16 years. This discussion should be preceded by a profound debate over whether such a possibility exists, whether it is desirable, and what really a democratic society feels about the long-term rule of one family. Therefore, the US must give an account to itself whether this question eluded society’s consciousness deliberately or accidentally, and whether this issue should have been discussed openly and vigorously.

Precedents across the world have shown that long-term tenure as president by one family can result in political corruption, as evident by the behavior of the last president of Argentina, who continued her husband’s role as president of this country.

Now, with the elections over, American society should address this issue when it is free of commitments to this or that candidate, and make the proper and just democratic decision as it is perceived by the American public, and consequently by the entire world.

About the Author
Dr David Altman is senior vice-president at the Netanya Academic College and vice-chair of the college's Strategic Dialogue Center
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