Will Obama suffer the ‘second-term curse’? (Yes)

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On Friday I noted that the “second term curse” has now sprung into effect for President Barack Obama. And I would not be surprise if soon voices on the right accelerate a demand for Obama’s impeachment and if at some point Republicans in Congress feel they must (as usual) respond to their base — with all the implications that will have for the Republican Party (and the Republic) if it proves not to be on solid ground.

Now the Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty and Philip Rucker pose the question about the “second term curse,” but I firmly believe it’s evident it’s now in effect and there has to be some major event or incredible overreach by the GOP to reverse its inevitable impact on the rest of Obama’s term. The Post:

Recent events suggest that the 44th president may not be immune to the phenomenon that historians call the “second-term curse.”

Not four months after his ambitious inaugural address, President Obama finds himself struggling to move his legislative agenda through an unbudging Congress.

And over the past week, two flaring controversies — one over his administration’s handling of the killing of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Libya, the other over Internal Revenue Service employees targeting tea party groups for special scrutiny — have dominated the discussion in Washington.

It is far from clear how big a political liability either will turn out to be.

What isn’t a “far cry” is that these stories and developments have put the administration on the defensive, which like a vampire sucking up blood, drains Obama of some of his political clout. No matter what the evidence proves in coming months, Fox News can be counted on to proclaim the administration guilty on all counts and you can predict what a political take is now on an issue by seeing who wrote it or what political website they’re writing it for.

At a minimum, they represent diversions working against a president who is keenly aware of how little time he has left to achieve big things. And they are a test of the insular Obama team’s skill at keeping its footing in an environment of hyperpartisan politics and hair-trigger media.

Y-e-p.

Friday, for instance, news of the IRS admission and developments surrounding the Benghazi attack turned White House press secretary Jay Carney’s daily briefing into a feeding frenzy and drowned out coverage of a speech that Obama was giving that day on the implementation of the health-care law that stands as his biggest achievement.

Tha’s because the media will pick on a crisis story and figure that is the only story in the world and anything else is trying to “change the subject” — when in reality the media is trying to change the weight of other stories at play as well and keep the focus only on a single story. Which can be a good thing in the case of governments or politicians trying to limit information on unfavorable events, or a bad thing if it obscures other things important to Americans.

The Post then quotes one of the best Presidential historians around:

“After the election, the president said he was familiar with the literature on second-term difficulties,” said presidential historian Michael Beschloss. “We scholars may be about to see whether knowledge of that history can help a president when they begin to strike.”

“What we’ve seen in the past week reignites the question scholars ask about problematic second terms,” Beschloss added. “Is it mainly a coincidence that every president of the past 80 years has had a hard time after getting reelected? Or is it somehow baked into the structure of a second-term presidency that some combination of serious troubles is going to happen?”

White House officials acknowledge that the history of modern second-term presidencies is a sobering one, replete with scandal and failure.

But they insist that they have seen nothing to suggest that Obama will fall into the traps that have ensnared so many of his predecessors: nothing that rivals the Watergate investigation that drove Richard M. Nixon out of office in 1974, the Iran-contra scandal that nearly derailed Ronald Reagan’s presidency in 1986,or the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998

The Post has more to say but I suspect we will see:

More focus on these two stories. The IRS story will be the most damaging of the two and heads could roll. The Benghazi story will also have “legs” but it’s clear with each passing day that many Republicans are also going after this story to try and chip away at former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s negatives. P.S.: Denying that is going on doesn’t make it so and even a jar of sauerkraut on the shelves at Vons Grocery store on Carmel Mountain Road in San Diego looks at this and says, “Politics. They see Hillary Clinton as a target).

Unless the Obama administration presents some information that clarifies these two issues so the bulk of non-partisan Americans or partisan Americans who aren’t talk show fans or bloggers are convinced, there’s a good chance the Democrats will lose the Senate and the House. One reason: when Democrats see their party behind they decide why bother voting and it means big Republican victory (then they complain about Republicans having so much power).

Congressional Republican leadership will only work with the administration in good faith when they absolutely feel it’s in their party’s interest to do so. If that much. The weaker Obama looks, the more impotent he feels, the bigger their Congressional victories. The Tea Party is revved up and ready go. (Hey, it worked in 2010).

Calls for and suggestions from conservatives that Obama could or should be impeached will grow. Talk show hosts will start raising the issue. If the GOP wins the House and Senate in 2014 there will be a move to respond to the base and at least bring up impeachment.

I’m not alone in that view. Michael Tomasky at the Daily Beast:

When the histories of this administration are written, I hope fervently that last Friday, May 10, does not figure prominently in them. But I fear that it might: the double-barrel revelations that the White House hasn’t quite been telling the whole story on Benghazi and that some mid-level IRS people targeted some Tea Party groups for scrutiny are guaranteed to ramp up the crazy. But to what extent? I fear it could be considerable, and the people in the White House damn well better fear the same, or we’re going to be contemplating an extremely ugly situation come 2015, especially if the Republicans have held the House and captured the Senate in the by-elections.

Let me clarify a point that’s been going around. On MSNBC Friday, I broached the I-word. You know the one. Three syllables. Links Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton. I said something like: I have little doubt the Republicans would try to pursue it—something I’ve written dozens of times without readers really batting an eye. But I guess saying it on TV, and on a fateful day, is different. I was on the business end of a small number of angry tweets from liberal readers, and I see that the UK Daily Mail trotted out my statement in a way that made it sound as if I thought it was legitimate.

I didn’t get to finish my thought on television for one reason or another, but here on my home field, as it were, permit me to finish it: I think the notion of impeachment is industrial-strength insane. There is utterly no proof that the President Obama even knew anything directly about the shifting Benghazi responses, let alone did something about them (yes, folks; under the Constitution, the President must do something). And as for the Internal Revenue Service story, from what we now know, those transgressions were committed by IRS staffers in Cincinnati who have never been closer to Obama than their television sets. I always held a squishy spot in my breast for the Daily Mail because of the “Paperback Writer” mention, but as of this weekend they can go stick it up their punter, or whatever it is they say. Impeachment is crazy, the Daily Mail is crazy, and the idea that Obama has any direct culpability in either of these matters is, given what we know today, utter madness. Okay?

But this is my point: utter madness is what today’s Republicans do. You can present to me every logical argument you desire.

And, indeed, that’s it: you could throw out all of the “givens” about politics and how a party and opposition party was expected to react and behave — the givens that were in place in the 1980s and even in the 1990s or early 2000s. If you say, “Nah, they wouldn’t go that far!” your’e often wrong.

More Tomasky:

Okay, but surely, you say, if facts don’t matter, then public opinion does? Think again, my friend. In 1998, support for impeachment of Bill Clinton was rarely above 30 percent. Here’s a little sampling of surveys from August and September of that year, during the heat of battle—the release of Clinton’s grand-jury testimony and of the Starr Report. Levels of support for impeachment were 26 percent, 25, 18, 27, 17, and so on. There was one poll where it hit 40 percent, but most were far lower. And remember, in political terms, 40 is the butt end of a massive landslide. The public hated the idea.

Did that stop anyone? No. And it won’t stop them now. They do their base’s bidding, not America’s. How many times do you need to see them do this before you accept that it is the reality? And now there’s an added element. They want to gin up turnout among their base for next year’s elections. And if they gin it up enough, and the Democratic base stays home, they could end up holding the House and taking the Senate. And if they have both houses, meaning that the vote in the House would not be certain to hit a Senate dead-end, well, look out.

I hope the White House knows this. I hope they understand, I hope the President himself understands, that the fever has not broken and will not break. It might crescendo right up to his very last day in office. And yes, a lot of this Benghazi stuff is about Hillary Clinton. But not all of it. And the IRS thing, which Drudge led with for two days in a row and may yet be bigger than Benghazi, isn’t about her at all. If my worst fears are never realized—well, good, obviously. But it will only be because they couldn’t identify even a flimsy pretext on which to proceed. Never put the most extreme behavior past them. It is who they are, and it is what they do.

And the historical implications would be huge.

If the country’s first African-American President was impeached and the case was there that he deserved it, it would be a special one for the history books.

If the country’s first African-American President was not impeached but there had been an impeachment fight, it would be one for the history books and the Republicans would face problems.

And if the country’s first African-American President was impeached but it was a sheer power politics, partisan vote and he did not deserve it, then it would not only be one for the history books but the Republican Party which is already trying to prove it hasn’t kissed off Hispanics, will have most-assuredly rebranded itself — in the worst kind of rebranding possible.

The bottom line?

YES Obama is now in the middle of the second-term curse and it’s hard to project at this writing what he can do to INCREASE his clout.

Bad times for the White House; great times for Fox News ratings.

7 Comments

  1. I hope that the crazier Reps holler for impeachment. Yes, you heard me right. As a Rep moderate, but more importantly as a believer in America, I don’t want a Rep House AND Senate. If the reps could control the crazies and stop the impeachment rhetoric, then they might win the Senate which I don’t think would, AT THIS TIME, be good for the country.

  2. I also hope we don’t get anywhere near impeachment on this stuff, and that the politicization of these issues from the right remains at as mild a roar as possible.

    That said, I don’t think it helps to focus on the reactions — especially the *potential* reactions first. Part of the reason there’s foaming on the right side of the aisle is because the left side of the aisle doesn’t appear to care about the issues that underlie these scandals. I will say the left is doing a fairly good job (so far) of seeing that the IRS scandal is very bad and inexcusable. Will they offer full-throated cries for this to be dealt with? I’m hopeful at this juncture.

    But they’ve been terrible in their refusal to see that Benghazi looked bad. Obama and Clinton were personally out in public for weeks after 9/11/12 saying it was due to a video. I still don’t see how to see that as anything other than political. And the effort to avoid having a major reminder right before the election that terror was still an issue has deflated the follow up that needed to happen. What led to the underestimate of the terrorist risk in Libya and the concomitant failure to provide adequate security? There had been plenty of attacks and warnings, as we now learn. etc. etc. These are real issues, and I remain rather deeply scandalized that the mainstream press has found them far less interesting than the question of how badly those nasty Republicans are playing the political game. That silence is what creates room for the frenzy on the other side.

    So yes, object to any efforts to overplay this. I agree it would be terrible if impeachment bubbled up as a real possibility anywhere outside of the far right fringes who have been there all along. But don’t use that as an excuse to ignore that there are real issues at stake in both these issues and for our polity to survive, they need to be raised not just by the right, but by the center and left as well. It was a big moment in Watergate when a few Republicans finally broke ranks to say there was a problem. While it seems thus far these scandals don’t rise to that level, they both merit a similar movement from the left and center. We should all care about transparency in government and we should all be worried by the appearance of lying to the public for political purposes.

  3. I think the most important part of the Tomasky article is this:

    Most Republican members of the House live in districts where it is a given (among the white constituents, anyway) that Obama is a socialist; that’s he bent on bringing the United States of America down, or at least that he definitely doesn’t love the country and the Constitution (nudge nudge) the way they do; that he’s not a legitimate occupant of the Oval Office to start with. At the time he was sworn in to his second term, 64 percent of Republicans agreed that Obama was “hiding important information” about his background. Half thought in December 2012 that he stole the election.

    The inevitable calls for impeachment will not be based in any of the facts regarding Benghazi, the IRS scandal (an actual scandal, apparently) or any other incident which might arise over the next couple of years. It is based entirely in the notion that conservative Republicans are the only legitimate heirs to power in Washington, and that Obama is a usurper of that rightful power.

    Having been utterly unable to unseat him electorally, they are forced to use other means.

    With regards to the “2nd Term Curse,” I wonder if maybe this time around it isn’t mostly invented.

    The grand-daddy of 2nd term curses (at least in my lifetime) was Watergate. That was a scandal. Felonies were committed. People went to prison. The President resigned in shame.

    The next guy to get a second term botched it with Iran/Contra. Again, a real scandal. The administration illegally did an end-run around Congress and dealt with terrorists on one hand and death squads on the other.

    Clinton’s second term was marked by his impeachment, but it is worth remembering how that started. It wasn’t about sex. It was about real estate. How we got to stained dresses and wagging fingers is a matter of a dogged and expensive investigation into just about everything, and that, in my opinion, is why we’re already talking impeachment now.

    Lacking an actual 2nd term curse, the GOP has set about inventing one. They have to. If the stock market continues to rise, unemployment continues to drop, and the housing market continues to recover, they’ll have less ammunition to use against Obama next November, and a lot less against (probably) Hillary in 2016.

    They need to impeach Obama.

  4. The last time republicans dragged the country through the impeachment process it was an unnecessary spectacle, was bad for the country, and (once again) showed how willing the GOP is to devote all their energy to abusing power (and trust) rather than governing responsibly. This is not a defense of Clinton but those who remember know it was another witch hunt and it wasted a LOT of time, energy, and money wayyy out of proportion to the “crime”. Yes, republicans would impeach Obama in a heartbeat over almost anything if they thought they could get away with it. I think we all know this. And btw, I’m one of those who would rather see presidents limited to one 6 year term.

  5. “More focus on these two stories. The IRS story will be the most damaging of the two and heads could roll.”

    I agree. In another thread I was surprised at the rolling eyes and scoffing at this story. It is potentially debilitating for any Prez in of the WH. Not because the President offered a wink and a nod. But because the law was broken at _the IRS_.

    I hope, not pray Zephyr, this is legally contained. America doesn’t need this kind of problem. But to the extent the law was broken by the IRS. Come down hard.

  6. But to the extent the law was broken by the IRS. Come down hard.

    Fine with me. I’m all for coming down hard on any and all abuses of power. What I’m against is spin for political gain by hypocrites.

  7. If Dennis Rodman, he who is quoted as saying: “We got a black president (who) can’t even go talk to (Kim),” Rodman told TMZ. “Obama can’t do s**t, I don’t know why he won’t go talk to him.”, is able to pull anything off, I will know the curse is in full effect. :-)

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