Historically, Second Is Not Best for U.S. Presidents

President George W. Bush (search) joins a select club when he is sworn in Thursday, a group to which even his father doesn't belong — men who have taken the oath of office for the presidency more than once.

And as part of that select group, Bush inherits all the promise and the pitfalls that come with a second term in the White House.

Bush, a man who won his first term in 2000 with a win in the Electoral College (search) but not by getting the most votes, cleared the hurdle a second time with a decisive victory and the support of a majority of the voting public. The word "mandate" quickly became used by his supporters to describe what Bush believed he had won.

He has detailed ambitious plans to revamp Social Security (search), rewrite medical malpractice and immigration laws, push through nominations to the Supreme Court, and rewrite the nation’s tax code. Plus, he continues to advocate for a strong U.S. role in world affairs.

"He is running full boar into [his agenda plans]. Whether or not he will succeed is yet to be seen," said Rich Lowry, editor of The National Review. "He really wants his second term to count. The stakes are huge."

At stake is what the history books will say about him and his impact on the 21st century. Bush said he is prepared to use whatever political capital it takes to drive his intense initiatives through Congress.

"I've earned capital in this election and I'm going to spend it for what I told the people I would spend it on, which is, you've heard the agenda, Social Security and tax reform, moving this economy forward, education, fighting and winning the War on Terror (search)," Bush said after his win in November.

He may be up against tough odds. Many presidents who were not evicted from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. after serving their first term have learned that an extended stay leaves them vulnerable to certain dangers. Some analysts point out that the more recent second terms have been mired in controversy.

"I certainly believe that since Nixon's resignation there has been a pattern of second terms being consumed by scandal," Lowry said. Richard Nixon (search) was re-elected but was driven from office midway through his second term.

In his second term, Bill Clinton was impeached over his handling of his affair with then-intern Monica Lewinsky, but he survived a vote in the Senate to serve out his eight years. Ronald Reagan faced intense congressional scrutiny over Iran-Contra during his second term.

Going further back in the 20th century, the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik (search) went right over the head of Dwight D. Eisenhower, leaving America a step behind in the space race.

Franklin D. Roosevelt (search) — the longest-serving president who was elected to the White House four times but died early in his last term — thought he'd be able to use his popularity to expand the size of the Supreme Court to his advantage. He failed.

Woodrow Wilson (search) led the nation through World War I (search) but then failed in his attempt to get the United States to join the League of Nations.

But presidential analysts say second-term accomplishments of contemporary American presidents cannot be weighed on the same scale as leaders of earlier eras, like F.D.R. or Wilson.

“A successful second term in modern politics is no small feat — essentially it is the political equivalent to a rocket shot to the moon that lands successfully,” said FOX News Channel senior White House correspondent Jim Angle.

Angle — who has covered the presidencies of Reagan, George H.W. Bush (search), Clinton and the current president — said he learned from the experience of covering Reagan during Iran-Contra that grading a commander-in-chief’s second term isn't easy.

“It is always difficult to say someone had a successful term when they had both scandal and great success, it becomes a value judgment,” he said.

Angle said it is hard to find any second-term achievements that match Reagan’s strides in dealing with the Soviet Union on arms control and working toward the drawing down of nuclear weapons. With that as his legacy, the Iran-Contra (search) scandal should not overshadow his record, he said.

Many of the problems that presidents have had in their second terms were results of power struggles between the executive and legislative branches of the government — the Lewinsky affair, Iran-Contra, Watergate. Lowry pointed out that one major obstacle that created many of these situations will not deter Bush, who has a friendly majority in both houses of Congress.

For the first time since 1924, a GOP president has both a 55-seat majority in the Senate and a majority in the 435-member House of Representatives.

Michael Barone, senior writer for U.S. News & World Report, said another characteristic risk that has faced second termers is hubris, an invincible feeling that can be invoked from the high of winning — again. Whether or not this will be the case for Bush is yet to be seen.

"It is a very ambitious program, so we must wait to see about success," Barone said.

Acting as a counter to the success of gaining a second term is the reality that at some point, the president is treated as a lame duck. This is a result of the two-term limit that became part of the U.S. Constitution in 1951, with the passing of the 22nd Amendment (search).

Early in the nation's history, during his last year in office, James Monroe was frequently ignored by a Congress that realized its chief executive would soon lose his job.

Yet being free of the pressure of running a third time, this very factor may make for a powerful weapon. “To not face elections again is a huge advantage … the second term is your biggest opportunity,” Angle said.

Lowry said the fact that Bush had a tough re-election fight against Sen. John Kerry gave him a pre-election momentum that afterward positioned him to make quick calls for reforms to Social Security and the tax code.

He has not yet been inaugurated and already Bush has gotten the ball rolling to dramatically change the way the nation's retirement accounts are set up. Foreign matters are also a major component of what will define Bush's success. Besides the ongoing U.S. military and diplomatic roles in Iraq and Afghanistan, the recent death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (search) gives Bush the chance to play a stronger role in the Middle East.

"It is something that he tried in his first term, but he couldn't get it done with Arafat in power — he tried, but Arafat lied. Now he has a chance," Angle said. "If he is also successful in the Middle East, that will be one heck of a legacy."

Lowry agreed that if men and women in nations such as Syria, Iran and other closed societies enjoy greater freedom in 10 years and it can be linked to the Bush administration's campaign to liberate Afghanistan and Iraq, that will be a "huge historic and geopolitical accomplishment.

"But it is totally up in the air," he said.