Who knew that confirmation of an inept secretary of defense on a near party-line vote would be the highlight of President Obama’s second term? It might be.
You need a scorecard to keep track of the scandals (snooping on Associated Press reporters, IRS targeting of conservatives, hitting regulated companies up for contributions to implement Obamacare, Benghazi) and the political belly flops (implementation of Obamacare, losing on gun legislation, exaggerating and caving on the sequester). Moreover, there is no grand bargain in sight, and there isn’t likely to be one as the president must cling to his left-wing base (which opposes any real entitlement reform) just as Bill Clinton had to go left during impeachment. A White House under siege is one that needs its core supporters more than ever.
And speaking of the media, even they seem unenthusiastic (aside from some dead-enders) about carrying the administration’s lame argument that the House had the Benghazi talking points emails for a few months. (To which we can only respond, that we’ve finally found a fact that matters not at all. The talking points revisions did make it into the scathing report by five House committees.) The media is now inclined to admit that the current excuses aren’t true (e.g. Jay Carney denies denying the White House made substantive edits, the president denies pushing the video narrative) which lends credence to the argument that the Obama crowd has never leveled with the public on Benghazi. If they are prevaricating now, doesn’t it mean its past conduct is problematic?
It is interesting that we haven’t seen or heard much from the usually loquacious VP Joe Biden. He, I suppose, doesn’t want to have video tape of him pushing the president’s half-truths and obvious misstatements. For now, not being in the news is the best he can do.
Since the administration’s credibility is in short supply on everything from the red line in Syria to the “spontaneous demonstration” line on Benghazi just about everything the president said is received skeptically. (If the White House counsel knew for weeks about the IRS scandal, did the president really learn about it from the media on Friday, as he claimed?)
There are a couple things the president could do to improve matters, including a White House shake-up. (Recall that Howard Baker stepped in to steady the Reagan administration in February 1987, rescuing the remainder of the term.) Obama could come up with a legislative win (but the most likely contender is immigration reform, which his presence will only make more difficult). He could do something impressive on foreign policy, but that goes against his nature and he lacks a competent, bold national security team to conceive and implement it.
Besides, Obama has always talked his way into power and out of trouble. He no doubt thinks this will all blow over and the press will return to its doormat posture soon enough.
This, however, is unlikely for a number of reasons. The press has been shamed into confronting the president and is unlikely to stop now (if for no other reason the press is battling one another for ratings and news breaking). The scandals are so numerous that resolving one still leaves several in operation. The president’s personal credibility has been damaged, so he’s not necessarily a useful spokesperson for himself. And, unlike Bill Clinton, who could always dump a laundry list of agenda items and give a policy-stuffed State of the Union, this president’s policy cupboard is nearly bare — universal pre-school? Puleez.
Once the president loses his mojo, the problems tend to be self-reinforcing. The press gets more aggressive. The president’s own party shies away from him. His party’s top candidates for the next midterm won’t run (leaving a house of Congress at risk). His polls go down, setting in motion more bad news stories. Sound familiar? Well, that was the picture in the second term of President George W. Bush as his approval rating went into the dumpster. Unless events change radically, that’s about where Obama’s second term is heading. And it will get much, much worse if he manages to lose the Senate as well.