It’s Halloween Week, a perfect time to talk about curses.

Here’s one that has marred our nation and its political landscape for half a century. The Curse of the Second Term.

I think it can be traced back to JFK’s assassination, when he was robbed of his life, and the country of a second term. LBJ — who had enough political skeletons in his closet that the devil himself likely informed him of the curse — had no interest in running for a second term. In 1968, he surprised the world by declining to run for one.

That led to Richard Nixon. Nixon had a generally successful first term, especially domestically, and enjoyed a landslide re-election in 1972. Then he was eaten alive by the first, and the mother of all Term Two spells: Watergate.

Ronald Reagan transformed the political culture in America in his first term, but his second term lost steam, was marred by giant deficits, and he went out muttering his famous “I don’t recall” mantra during the arms for hostages scandal, looking old, defeated and possibly untruthful.

Bill Clinton started slowly but worked his way into a strong first term. He and Congress actually created a budget surplus (you know, the opposite of deficit). But then came Term Two. While the economy was cranking along, thanks largely to the dotcom bubble, the presidency was framed by Monica Lewinsky and an impeachment effort. Even a robust economy couldn’t keep Term Two from being a disappointment.

George Bush II — the most “every man” president maybe in the history of the country — did a stellar job guiding the country through 9-11. In term one, he couldn’t stand that the government had more money than it apparently needed, so he pushed for a bunch of tax cuts and even gave all taxpayers kickbacks. It meant the return of federal deficits, but we didn’t care. The federal government was mailing us checks and we were all qualifying for $400,000 homes! What a wonderful time. We appreciated that enough to elect him to a second term.

In Term Two, Bush was stuck in two wars, bin Laden out there somewhere just tweaking his nose at us; and then, just before he could run out the White House doors, the country dove into the biggest economic recession since the great one-termer Herbert Hoover was in office.

Now Barack Obama: historians will likely say he had a remarkable first term: The economy (slowly) turned around; he ended one of those wars and is wrapping up the second; and passed what Democratic and GOP presidents had long fantasized about: a national health care plan. Oh yeah, and bin Laden stopped tweaking his nose.

Now comes term two: debilitating partisanship we foolishly hoped would cool after the election is even deeper. It’s been a frigid fall: the government shutdown, spying on our allies, and, oh, that fiasco rollout of the national health care program.

Maybe, just maybe, things will improve over the next three years. Maybe nonDemocrats will learn to appreciate the president, work with him, and not view him as the enemy of everything good about America. And maybe Obama will become a president that even his political enemies can find palatable (ala Clinton and Reagan). That would take change in style, if not substance, change he so far hasn’t cared to make.

But maybe Obama will leave office with the Affordable Health Care Act running well and in public favor, with the nation at peace, with our allies’ respect and support renewed, with bipartisan in Washington resurrected. Maybe Obama will be successful in killing the Curse of the Second Term.

But, on this Halloween eve of 2013, the curse seems very much alive.

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