What is it about presidents and their second terms?
Ronald Reagan had Iran-Contra, Bill Clinton had “Monica-Gate” and, of course, Richard Nixon had Watergate. Although history has since judged each of these three presidents in relation to the scandals that rocked their administrations, only Nixon saw the scandal completely soil his legacy.
Will President Obama face the same fate?
Barely five months after his second inauguration, Obama has found himself embroiled in three high-profile scandals that threaten to taint his legacy.
At a time when unemployment is at 7.5 percent and, according to the National Employment Monthly Update, “over 11 million workers are currently unemployed, with 4.4 million of them considered long-term unemployed having been jobless for 27 weeks or longer,” it is all the more important that Obama expend his remaining political capital to focus on initiatives to spur job growth.
However, with scandals seemingly coming as frequently as seasonal changes, he has been forced to explain, backpedal, apologize, clarify, fire and otherwise protect his good standing in the eyes of his supporters.
Although, even Obama’s most vocal followers must be concerned about the “controversy of the week” that has become common within his administration.
The most high profile scandal was the Benghazi consulate attacks where administration officials originally suggested it was sparked by an anti-Muslim video, but later reported it to be a terrorist attack.
Then there was the revelation that the IRS tax agency was targeting conservative groups aligned with the Tea Party movement.
Finally, a watchdog report has recently released claiming the U.S. government had “lost track” of “two known or suspected terrorists” who were given new identities under the witness protection program. It light of the recent Boston Marathon Bombings, this news is not very good for the administration, to say the least.
According to recent polling by CNN and ORC, Obama’s approval ratings have not been significantly affected by the scandals, as he is currently sitting at a 53-percent rating of approval.
Nevertheless, the president is not helping his cause by claiming to have no prior knowledge of the IRS malfeasants until reading about them from national news outlets. Additionally, his decision to “fire” IRS Commissioner Steven Miller (actually Miller was set to resign anyway) has done little to alleviate the damage done by the seemingly daily barrage of bad press.
President Obama is going to have to find a way to rein in these scandals or risk becoming a lame-duck president with no political capital to do anything in his second term.
The more the media focuses on Obama’s scandals, the more likely that important legislative priorities like immigration reform, unemployment and skyrocketing student loan debt will be ignored by a divided government. Obama’s political opponents would love the conversation to be centered around the scandals of his administration rather than pushing for needed policy initiatives that would positively impact Obama’s legacy.
Overcoming the scandals starts with realizing that his claims of ignorance regarding them do not make his administration appear particularly competent. If he is unaware of what is going on at various government agencies, then he needs to be better briefed by his staff.
Also, Obama needs to discuss, in depth, how important it is to “punish those responsible” for these issues and stand firm. He cannot just say he wants those responsible punished and fail to follow through with it.
There is only a finite amount of time for a re-elected president to set an agenda and push for it before the mid-term elections commence. With so much time focused on Obama’s scandals and mid-term election mere months away, Obama must address the controversies head-on and put them behind him or risk seeing his next few months as a crushing indictment on his presidential legacy.