World Focus: Second-term blues set in as President Obama faces a raft of scandals

The IRS affair may have the greatest ramifications and strikes dark historical chords

Washington

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

Six months after his triumphant re-election, “secondterm-itis” has struck President Obama, beset by simultaneous scandals that could scotch his already slender hopes of driving major new legislation through Congress.

The turnaround is all the more startling in that 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 $400m of taxpayers’ money 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 lameduck 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, Nixon and Watergate, 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 11 September 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 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 however 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 that had “no possible justification”, and demanded the return of the records.

The IRS affair however may have the greatest ramifications, and 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 political opponents – except that this time the roles are reversed, with conservatives the target.

In Monday’s press conference with David Cameron, Mr Obama described the IRS’ behaviour (which the latter admits itself was “inappropriate”) as “outrageous”. There was no place for it, “and they have to be held fully accountable,” he said.

No one is claiming the President ordered the investigation – indeed, since Watergate, presidents have been legally barred from contact with the IRS. But the very question acted as illustration of how scandals, at the very least, are distractions for even the most disciplined White House.

Mr Obama is already learning that lesson. Last week’s Benghazi hearings dominated the Washington headlines. Hearings on the IRS affair are already scheduled for Friday in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, and Mr Holder may well soon find himself in the Capitol Hill hot seat to explain the AP affair.

News
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food and drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
Voices
A Siberian Tiger
voices
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Senior SAP MM Consultant, £50,000 - £60,000, Birmingham

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Senior SAP MM C...

SAP BW BO

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP BW BO - 6 MONTHS - LONDON London (Gr...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried