01/22/2008 02:17 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

In Defense of the 22nd Amendment

In 2003, former President Bill Clinton made this remark on CBS' 60 Minutes: "I think presidents should be limited to two consecutive terms, then after a time out of office should be able to run again."

We can't say we weren't warned.

This election season, Bill Clinton's abrasive campaigning on behalf of his wife has already been criticized by influential Democrats like Ted Kennedy, Jim Clyburn and even long-time Clinton ally Rahm Emmanuel. Clinton's harsh (and often false) accusations against his wife's main campaign rival, Senator Barack Obama, are simply unbecoming of a former president.

One has to wonder whether Clinton is not running for that third term he's been talking about.

After being the chief executive of Arkansas and the United States of America for a total of 20 years, is Clinton ready to move back in the White House and respect the ultimate authority of a president, to whom he happens to be married? From what we've seen on the campaign trail, Bill Clinton can hardly take a back seat.

He openly embraced a merit-less lawsuit to block shift workers from caucusing in the Vegas strip -- sites that had been expected to favor Obama. He called Obama's plan for Iraq a "fairy tale," and said a vote for the Illinois senator would be like rolling the dice. More recently, Clinton misquoted Obama's comments about the Republican Congress of the 1990s, claiming his wife's rival had said the Republicans were full of "good ideas."

If Bill Clinton is not running for president, somebody has to tell him.

But Clinton alone is not to blame for his current flirtation with a White House encore. I was one of millions of Americans who wished aloud that Clinton could run again in 2000. But like most Americans, my comments were tongue-in-cheek, not to be taken as an invitation to circumvent the 22nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which bars a president from serving more than two full terms.

Perhaps it was Clinton's many travels around the world that inspired a comeback. In contrast to our own traditions, many of Europe's parliamentary systems allow a head of government to stay on the job indefinitely. Germany's long-ruling chancellors like Helmut Kohl and Gerhard Schroeder have led some Germans to complain about their Kaiserkanzler ("Kaiser chancellors"). In hardly democratic Russia, Putin's super-presidency will likely continue from the sidelines until he can officially run again in 2012.

But that was hardly what the Founding Fathers had in mind for our republic.

Franklin D. Roosevelt has been the only president to serve more than two full terms. All others either would not, or could not, serve more than two. The 22nd Amendment made official what most Americans already seemed to agree on: that eight years in the most powerful office is enough for any individual.

To be sure, a Hillary Clinton presidency would not violate the letter of the 22nd Amendment. She would be the president. But if Bill Clinton keeps up such a high profile and highly politicized role, it may just violate the spirit behind it.

Bill Clinton should remember that Americans expect their former presidents to gracefully step down, and step down for good. Certainly, no one expects them to engage in petty attacks or dirty campaign tactics against fellow party members in a contested primary election.

If Hillary Clinton is truly ready for prime time, she should take the reins of her own campaign, and show the electorate that a co-presidency is not in the works. After all, Senator Clinton is a qualified, driven and shrewd individual. She doesn't need her husband to be the face of her campaign, and neither does America.