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Obama's second term: What history says to expect

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"Triumphant Obama Faces New Foe in 'Second-Term Curse,' " read one headline a day after the 2012 election.

"Can Obama dodge the Second-Term Trap?" asked another.

Googling "second-term curse" yields as many as 4 million results. Lots of people believe it – including President Obama, at least in part. "I'm well aware of the history of second-term overreach," he has said.

But does that mean it's true? Or is the truth closer to what Rutgers University presidential historian David Greenberg termed in a recent New Republic piece – "The Myth of Second-Term Failure"?

Whether one believes in the curse or not, second-term presidents inevitably confront problems both unexpected and familiar. Obama will, too. Does the past hold any clues about how to overcome them?

According to Waldman, back then Clinton was taken with the ideas of Yale University historian Stephen Skowronek. Waldman remembers Clinton arguing that the best-remembered presidents "are those who take bold stands to upend the existing order."

OK, but how?

First, some background.

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Those 21 second-termers include three presidents who were elected to second terms but didn't complete them, either because of assassination (Abraham Lincoln, William McKinley) or resignation (Richard Nixon). It also includes four who assumed the office after the death of a sitting president and then were elected to a second term (Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry S. Truman, Lyndon Johnson).

Second-termers aren't sprinkled evenly throughout American history. Five of the first seven US presidents won second terms: Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and Jackson.

In the 100 years between Jackson and F.D.R., the US only had seven. But in the past 32 years, it's had four out of the last five: Ronald Reagan, Clinton, George W. Bush, and now Obama – only George H.W. Bush missed out.

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