It's a truism that no president makes it through a second term without some scandal. President Obama is no exception.
Here we are just four months into his second administration, and we've got not just one scandal but two.
Thanks to reporting over the last two weeks by our own Steve Hayes, it was revealed that in the wake of the Benghazi attacks, the White House's talking points were heavily edited by the State Department. The edits removed the suggestion that the incident, which claimed the lives of four Americans, was a terrorist attack. Then, late last week, we learned that the IRS has been targeting conservative groups since March of 2010.
The Obama administration has some problems. The question is, how big are they?
It's too soon to tell, of course. But there are some aspects of these stories that suggest they're going to make more-than-medium-sized trouble for Obama.
To start with, while the particulars might be complicated, both stories are easily understandable to people who aren't politics and news junkies. Here are the nubs: (1) The State Department intentionally obscured the truth about the death of an American ambassador weeks before a presidential election. (2) The IRS intentionally audited people and groups who opposed the president. Those are the take-home, headline versions of the stories and they're pretty clear-cut.
Second, there's still reporting to be done on both stories. We don’t know how much is left to be unearthed, but we do know that we haven’t touched bottom yet. How high up in the government did knowledge about the IRS’s activity go? And then why wasn't it stopped? At the State Department, emails claimed that the "building's leadership" wanted changes made to the CIA's talking points memo. What and who, exactly, does that mean?
Not only do we not know the answers to those questions, but also the answers will probably prompt further queries.
Third, both of these failures speak to the same underlying problem: incompetence married to hyper-politicization. President Obama likes to complain about how it's always everyone else's fault that he can't get anything done. He's always the bipartisan moderate pushing compromise. But eventually people might notice that he is, just as a matter of statistics, the most polarizing president ever—tied with George W. Bush's 2004-2005 nadir in terms of how he has split the country in two. And after they realize this, they may look at the hyper-politicized manner in which he has conducted his administration and decide that it is not something for which they particularly care.
After all, polarization married to success is one thing. But when it’s paired with incompetence, it's something else.
Now, maybe in a month Benghazi and the IRS enemies list will be put to bed. Maybe President Obama will be celebrating a Gang-of-8-passed immigration law. Maybe the puzzle of Obamacare's implementation will start to look a little clearer. None of this is out of the realm of possibility.
But it's not hard to see how the opposite might come to pass. Maybe in a month we'll still be asking questions and holding hearing about Benghazi and the IRS… Because of this, opposition to immigration reform hardens and the bill dies. Obamacare continues to look like a mess. Legislators dig in for 2014 and vulnerable Democrats try to figure out how far away from healthcare reform they need to be in order to save their seats.
And before you know it, the only thing Obama has left to him is to fight a rear-guard action trying to keep his precious Obamacare from being dismantled.
That's not out of the realm of possibility either.