President Obama went into damage-control mode on Monday, trying to dismiss GOP criticism of his administration's handling of September's deadly Benghazi attacks as a partisan "sideshow," while joining the angry chorus slamming the Internal Revenue Service for targeting conservative groups. Meanwhile, a third scandal erupted, when the Associated Press revealed that the Justice Department had secretly obtained some of its phone records — infecting even many liberals with scandal fever.
The trio of controversies prompted speculation that Obama's plans for his second term might be in serious trouble. "If you were setting out to provoke the scandal machine that has bedeviled every recent second-term president, having the IRS conduct audits using such key words as 'Tea Party' and 'We the People' is sure to get it going," says Eleanor Clift at The Daily Beast. Her observations were echoed by The Washington Post's Dana Milbank, who said that Obama is already being forced to strike "the familiar crouch of a scandal-struck second-termer."
Obama's attempt to quiet his critics on Monday won't be enough to lift his fortunes, Milbank predicted. Just as the administration's failure to get out information on Benghazi quickly allowed Republicans to turn the inquiry into the "sideshow" Obama described, his promise to hold people accountable "if" the allegations against the IRS are true will only hand his critics the opportunity to write the script on that story, too. Milbank continues:
Outrage is appropriate, but Obama's response did him little good because it failed to get him out in front of the scandal. Rather than taking quick action — firing those involved or opening an investigation with more teeth than the inspector general's — he has left himself at the mercy of events, and will be called to respond as details dribble out. [Washington Post]
Can Obama bounce back? David Swerdlick says at The Root that the president can mitigate the damage if he can "get a handle on these scandals," fast. That means pinpointing what went wrong with security in Benghazi and with the administration's account of what happened — and acknowledging it. He'll also have to "excise whatever rot exists in the IRS, all the way up to the top — no matter how many heads roll." If Obama falls short, Swerdlick says, he's "going to have a very ugly second term."
Plenty of people, however, are convinced that Obama's remaining three and a half years are going to be ugly, no matter what. The back-to-back-to-back revelations dogging Obama this week are giving the right's impeach-Obama groups "new legs," says Elizabeth Flock at U.S. News & World Report. And now it's not just the anti-immigrant crowd and the discredited birthers who are using the "i-word." This perfect storm of scandal is causing the impeachment buzz to "drift toward the Republican mainstream."
Obama's critics say that his stature has taken a triple hit from which it can't fully recover. The president's "credibility and reasonableness" played a big part in his ability to win re-election against great odds, says Chris Stirewalt at Fox News. It allowed him to perform feats of political jujitsu, depicting his critics, "even legitimate ones, as racist, xenophobic, kooky, and stupid." That's not going to work anymore.
The news that his administration "scrubbed talking points about the attack expressly to deny Republicans the opportunity to criticize the administration" over Benghazi, followed by revelations about "the deliberate targeting of conservative groups by the IRS," and then the news about Justice's spying on the AP, will simply make it impossible for Obama to paint his detractors as paranoid kooks ever again. "The best recipes for Lame Duck Soup call for a healthy scoop of scandal," Stirewalt says, and Obama just got himself extra helpings.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to
- Your literary playlist: A guide to the music of Haruki Murakami
- Why you should stop believing in evolution
- The secret to handling pressure like astronauts, Navy SEALs, and samurai
- After Ferguson, we don't need another dialogue on race
- Russia's new air force is a mystery
- The government is getting into the fact-checking business. Be very, very afraid.
- How I became a borderline hoarder
- In defense of Obama's golfing
Subscribe to the Week