Presidents and Terminal Logic Behavior: Term Limits and Executive Action in the United States, Brazil and Argentina. By Genevieve M. Kehoe. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2014. 231 pp.
"Final-term presidents," writes Genevieve M. Kehoe, "should more properly be termed 'soaring eagles' rather than 'lame ducks" (p. 1). Moreover, she concludes, "Everything points to the conclusion that in Obama we have the making of a soaring eagle--not a lame duck." Indeed, "an end-of-tenure Obama may be the most aggressive end-of-tenure president that we have seen yet" (p. 171).
This is a bold study that attempts to assess the incentives motivating presidents in their last legacy-enhancing months in office. The author claims that significant policy decisions are pushed, especially in presidential executive orders and similar decrees, because "presidents are free from re-election constraints and enthused by legacy to pursue bold projects--and they have the power to make it happen" (p.1).
This book challenges conventional thinking. Most presidency analysts believe that, with a few exceptions, presidents lose political capital and popular support as their term winds down. Advisors leave, people pay even less attention to what presidents are saying, and Congress and the courts are more likely to be assertive. This seems to be the case for the one-termers, such as Herbert Hoover, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George H. W. Bush, as well as for those in second terms, such as Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. In "sixth-year" midterm congressional elections, most candidates in competitive races do not want their party's president to come and campaign with them. This was true for Presidents Lyndon Johnson in 1966, Ford in 1974, Bush in 2006, and Barack Obama in 2014.
Ronald Reagan and Clinton were somewhat more popular in their second terms. But, with the one exception of Clinton's second midterm, there is a remarkable pattern of what can be called "a sixth-year pushback"--in which the opposition party enjoys significant congressional and state political victories. (The midterm elections of 1966, 1974, 2006, and 2014 are illustrative.) These realities are generally thought to constrain rather than empower end-of-tenure presidents.
Kehoe is motivated to study presidents near the end of their terms because of a concern that the two-term limit may encourage overreach or even irresponsible behavior. She cites the...