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Curse of second-term blues has Obama fighting on all fronts

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U.S. President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder attend the National Peace Officers Memorial Service at the Capitol in Washington May 15, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque  (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)

U.S. President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder attend the National Peace Officers Memorial Service at the Capitol in Washington May 15, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)

REUTERS

U.S. President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder attend the National Peace Officers Memorial Service at the Capitol in Washington May 15, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)

MOST people expected the all-too-familiar Washington disease to set in, but few predicted the symptoms to appear quite so quickly.

Six months after his triumphant re-election to the White House, 'secondterm-itis' has struck President Barack Obama. He is beset by simultaneous scandals that could scotch his already slender hopes of driving major new legislation through Congress.

Mr Obama said yesterday that the government watchdog's report shows intolerable and inexcusable behaviour by the US federal tax agency in targeting conservative political groups.

He added that some Internal Revenue Service employees failed to apply the law fairly and impartially.

And he revealed that he has asked Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to hold accountable those responsible and ensure it never happens again. He says regardless of how it happened, it was wrong.

Meanwhile, a report from the Treasury inspector general for tax administration blames ineffective IRS management for allowing agents to improperly target tea party groups for extra scrutiny when they applied for tax exempt status. It says lax managers allowed the practice to continue for 18 months. The Justice Department is also investigating.

Benghazi

The remarkable turnaround in Mr Obama's teflon tenure since taking office is startling because previously the Obama White House had been almost eerily scandal-free, the only blemish being a failed solar-energy company named Solyndra.

But Republicans failed to show that the $400m (€310m) of taxpayers' money that was poured into Solyndra was anything worse than a high-tech bet gone sour.

However, the administration is suddenly on the defensive on three fronts: its handling of the aftermath of the Benghazi attack last September; the targeting by US tax authorities of conservative political groups; and now the secret seizure by the Justice Department of phone records for reporters at the Associated Press in its pursuit of a leak of information about a failed al-Qa'ida plot last year.

None comes close to Watergate, which destroyed Richard Nixon, or the Iran-Contra affair that engulfed Ronald Reagan. Nor do they yet give Mr Obama the lame-duck status to which, sooner or later, every second-term incumbent is consigned.

But they do underline an eternal truth. From Franklin Roosevelt and his attempt to pack the Supreme Court, to Nixon and Watergate, to Reagan and Iran Contra, to Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, and, most recently, George W Bush and Hurricane Katrina, chaos in Iraq and the 2007/2008 financial crisis – second terms are when trouble hits.

Of the three, the Benghazi affair seems the least menacing. Whether the deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three members of his staff in the September 11, 2012, terrorist attack could have been prevented is no longer the issue. What bothers the Republicans is 'spin' – how the administration portrayed the attack.

And their quarry is at least as much the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whom Republicans see as their most formidable potential opponent in 2016, as Mr Obama himself.

The White Houselast night released 99 pages of emails on last year's deadly attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, in hopes of putting an end to the issue.

One of the newly released, partially blacked-out emails shows that then CIA-Director David Petraeus objected to the final talking points that UN Ambassador Susan Rice used five days after the deadly assault because he wanted to see more detail publicly released, including a warning the CIA issued about plans for a break-in at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.

The AP and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) controversies may be more damaging. In the former, the Justice Department is pursuing not so much the wire service as the official who leaked details of the operation in 2012 to thwart an "underwear bombing" of a commercial plane planned by the Yemeni branch of al-Qa'ida.

Democratic administrations might be assumed to be more relaxed about leaks than Republican ones. Not so Mr Obama's, which has prosecuted six officials for leaking classified information to reporters.

The scope of the investigation, according to legal experts, is exceptional. In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Gary Pruitt, the AP president, denounced a "massive and unprecedented intrusion" into news-gathering activities.

Memories

However, the IRS affair may have the greatest ramifications. It certainly strikes the darkest historical chords. With its examination of the tax-exempt status of Tea Party-aligned and other right-wing political groups, the IRS has brought back memories of the Nixon White House and its use of the tax authorities to hound opponents – except that this time the roles are reversed, with conservatives the target.

No one is claiming that the president ordered the investigation – indeed, since Watergate, presidents have been legally barred from having contact with the IRS. But the very question illustrated how scandals, at the very least, are distractions for even the most disciplined White House. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent