Second Term Evolutions

"I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that [other presidents] did not.
Then-Presidential Candidate, Senator Barack Obama, January 2008

To emulate Reagan would be no easy feat.  Observers are already asking whether the president is succumbing to the “second term” curse.  The phenomenon refers to the fate that has befallen many presidents who have successfully sought a second term.  Despite reelection, sometimes by overwhelming margins, a once soaring president will find himself humbled by circumstances.  Military stalemates undermined Truman, Johnson, and Bush 43.  Scandal marred the second terms of Nixon and Clinton, and Reagan too.  Yet Obama is threatened by neither. The revelations arising from the continuing investigation into the tragedy at Benghazi may not upend his presidency, but they have exposed a Barack Obama few Americans knew when they elected him as well as an evolution he has undergone in the past four years, let alone a curse that might undermine his next four.

Only One Presidential Term Later

Nine days on the job and President Reagan unequivocally stated the Soviet Union “reserve[d] unto [itself] the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat,” in order to attain their objectives.

Reagan was never shy about his opposition to communism and his stalwart denunciation of the Soviet Union at the outset of his administration was merely a continuation of his public statements dating back to the beginning of his political career.

Even after having been president for some time, Reagan did not relent.  Two years later and amidst massive opposition to his Cold War policies, he famously labeled the Soviet Union “the focus of evil in the modern world.”

By the end of his term, Reagan would the first American president not to have met with his Soviet counterpart during his first four years in office.

Reagan remained steadfast in his anti-communism and made it integral to his reelection in 1984.

Nevertheless, in his second term, Reagan would sign the first-ever treaty to reduce nuclear forces with the Soviet Union in December 1987 and, in May the following year, he would conclude a historic summit in Moscow by walking its streets and mingling with Soviet citizens.  When asked by a reporter -- on the Kremlin grounds -- about the famous “evil empire” speech, Reagan responded, “I was talking about another time, another era.”

Reagan’s evolution from stalwart anti-communist to peacemaker was not evidence of cynicism or opportunism.  Reagan’s principles hadn’t changed -- as he explained, only the circumstances had.  His convictions were unshakeable and his Soviet counterparts recognized this and never found an alternative to the contradictions inherent to their system.  The American and Soviet people were lucky to have an individual in the presidency as gracious as he was resolute.

The American public may not be so lucky this time around.

From Merely Conceited...

Barack Obama was a relative unknown in 2004 before he began his meteoric rise on the American political scene.  With an intriguing background, a magnetic profile, and an oratorical gift to be envied, Obama rapidly became a major political figure, despite a dearth of experience or accomplishments.  As many have acknowledged, and Obama himself has conceded (see Prize, Nobel Peace), his proponents are convinced Obama shares their aspirations without necessarily expecting him to do anything to substantiate this conclusion.  

Amidst an unprecedented financial crisis which punctuated the close of a presidency marked by terrorism and war, many Americans were ready to embrace Obama’s ostensibly earnest promise of hope and change.

His self-regard was already substantial:
  • "I'm LeBron, baby.” As quoted at the 2004 Democratic National Convention
  • “I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.”  As quoted in 2007

Unfortunately, after speaking stirringly of transforming America and changing how Washington works, President Obama has lived down to the limitations associated with someone of his meager accomplishments.  

Worse, his eloquence proved a thin veneer, as subsequent comments revealed a cavalier and smug individual, disrespectful of his opponents and insensitive to the public's hardships.

After only three days in office, he became the first president to practically yell “scoreboard."

In June 2011, the number of unemployed persons totaled 14.1 million and the unemployment rate was 9.2 percent.  The same month the president sheepishly half-joked the shovel-ready jobs that he famously promised were part of his 2009 stimulus bill “were not so shovel ready.”

Three months later, Obama asserted the United States was “a great, great country that had gotten a little soft.”  

By the end of 2011 nearing election season, the president claimed that Americans had become “a little bit lazy.”  

Obama should have been a one-term president -- Carter infamously diagnosed a “crisis of confidence” in America but Reagan successfully argued the crisis was Carter’s alone.  Unfortunately, Republicans went on to nominate a milquetoast candidate and inexplicably failed to explain why Americans were obviously not better off than they were four years earlier.

For his part, Obama shed the optimism of 2008 and, Chicago-style, went straight for the jugular.  The margin was narrower, but as in 2008, a win was a win and Obama was again ready to spike the ball.

...To Just Contemptuous

The terrorist assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, occurred on the eleventh anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks and fifty-six days before the election.  The Republican presidential candidate fumbled the initial response and the Administration immediately claimed an anti-Muslim video had prompted what was characterized as a spontaneous street demonstration turned deadly.

By the weekend, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, made her appearances on the Sunday talk shows and explained the episode on the basis of agreed upon interagency talking points.

When conflicting reports over the content of the talking points surfaced, outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rebuffed congressional inquisitors by asking “What difference, at this point, does it make?”

Fast forward to the present day and amidst the emergence of new facts, the White House spokesman would assert, “Benghazi happened a long time ago.”

During a joint news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron, the president said the continued questions amounted to a “sideshow.”

What Did The President Not Know and When Did He Not Know It?

According to former presidential advisor David Axelrod, in discussing the brewing IRS scandal, “you know we have a large government... Part of being president is there's so much underneath you that you can't know because the government is so vast.”

Rather convenient, yes?

As previously noted regarding Benghazi, President Obama met with Leon Panetta, the outgoing Secretary of Defense, at 5:00 p.m. EDT on September 11, 2012 for a “pre-scheduled” meeting and directed him to what was necessary and subsequent interagency collaborations produced what was asserted to be an authoritative accounting of the attack.

Alternatively, internal controls at the Internal Revenue Service entailed the agency’s inspector general informing White House counsel, who then informed the president’s chief of staff.  But he declined to tell the president -- to preclude the appearance of interference.  (Even though mere awareness is not interference, just awareness.)

So which is it?  Either the president is handson or he is missing in action.

Former Obama Administration official Cass Sunstein contorted himself by recently positing the emergence of scandals in the second term was not because of “arrogance, distraction or hubris... [just] a matter of arithmetic.”  

Sunstein argued the escalating number of choices occurring during his administration will invariably include “bad or troubling” decisions.  The real question, was whether “a troubling decision will turn into an apparent or actual scandal... [and] whether someone has both the incentive and the ability to bring the allegedly inappropriate action to the attention of the public.”

To echo American commentator Peggy Noonan, “Think of how low your opinion of the American people has to be to think you can get away, forever, with that.”

Sunstein conveniently included in his definition of “wrong” decisions those which decision-makers should know are bad as a matter of legality, not utility. He also stingily declined to acknowledge any inquiries are genuinely submitted in the pursuit of justice.

And few had been asking these questions until now.

Until now, the toughest questions have been asked by a satirist on an American comedy cable channel.

Confirming The Negative

In February 2013, Ambassador Rice appeared on the Daily Show.  Host John Stewart allowed Rice to castigate the alleged politicization of Benghazi, but he persisted by pointedly asking, “why is there a system a bureaucratic system in place that is so tenacious with the [Benghazi talking points] explanation but yet seemingly abdicates a little bit of responsibility for the initial [requests for additional security at the consulate]?” (Emphasis added)

Rice could only dissemble by asserting such questions detract from implementing lessons learned.  Apparently, Stewart's question answered itself.

As subsequent investigative reporting, whistleblower testimony before Congress, and released internal emails have shown, all of the principal decision-makers knew the assault on Benghazi was a terrorist attack within the first 72 hours.

And well before President Obama reiterated the lie that the video had caused the tragedy to relatives of the slain Americans days later and to the world in a speech to the United Nations fourteen days later.

To again echo Peggy Noonan, this time on Obama’s comments about Reagan, “If Barack Obama is a great man it will become apparent with time, and if he is not, that will become apparent too.”

Curse or no curse -- the latter is already apparent.

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