Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Real Threat to Obama's Second Term

According to the CBO, the budget deficit will shrink to $642 billion this year, the lowest it's been since 2008. That's approximately $200 billion less than a previous estimate from February.  Even better, the deficit is expected to be around $378 billion by 2015.

That should be great news and you'll be delighted to know I found it somewhere between the stories about Michael Vick being accused of cheating and Angelina Jolie's decision to have a double mastectomy. Not to worry, though, it was definitely ahead of the story about Selena Gomez showing off her curves in a bikini. Boy, I bet Justin Bieber is kicking himself right about now.

Oh, the lead story? You'll never guess. Seems there's this little thing going on in Washington having to do with Benghazi, the IRS and the Associated Press that is all the rage. Our beloved President is up to his ears having to fend off charges of coverup and incompetence. It's kind of like being trapped in a nightmare you can't wake up from.

Of the three "scandals," Benghazi looks like the odd man out. What was once considered to be a pissing contest between the CIA and the State Department, now appears to be a pissing contest between ABC and CNN. Both networks have released emails that ostensibly contradict each other regarding the talking points that Susan Rice used in her now infamous talk show appearances. With each passing day it looks more and more like a major screw up, nothing more. Tragic, but certainly not rising to the level of a coverup, no matter what Darrell Issa says.

It's the other two that have the potential to cause the most damage. The IRS scandal is the perfect fodder for the wingnuts on the Right who were already paranoid about the government to begin with. Now, they're practically in hyperdrive. How incompetent do you have to be to make Mark Levin sound legit? Pretty damn incompetent, that's how. Obama took an important first step by forcing the resignation of the acting director of the agency. But more heads need to roll here.

The real headache, though, is the AP scandal. There's an old, established axiom in politics. You don't fuck the fourth estate. Never. It always fucks back. Nixon found that out the hard way. Even if the DOJ had a legitimate reason for going after one or two reporters who it felt had jeopardized national security and endangered lives, this wasn't the way to go about doing it. You don't use a shark's net to catch a minnow.  It was stupid and unnecessary.

The result of this fiasco is that the media now has its dander up and is taking it out on the Administration. In case you missed yesterday's briefing - AKA, the feeding frenzy - Jay Carney was being savagely ripped apart by the White House press corp. Reporters who normally sleep walk through such briefings were channeling their inner Edward R. Murrow.

Great. After nearly three decades of phoning it in, they suddenly discovered they're reporters. Who knew?

Don't think for a moment that this is just some temporary phase that will die of its own volition. For over four years, Barack Obama has enjoyed a rather cordial relationship with the press. At the risk of sounding like a Fox News' correspondent, you could say he's been given the benefit of the doubt more often than not.

As Billy Joel once sang, "Say goodbye to Hollywood." I'm not saying Obama is the modern-day equivalent of Richard Nixon. For one thing, Nixon was a total dick and everyone knew it even before Watergate broke. Obama is nowhere near that point and most of the media - those that aren't crazed on Meth - understand that. But the heat is about to go up more than just a few degrees.

If I were the White House, I would expect a lot more confrontational press briefings. The "in your face" treatment is here to stay for the foreseeable future. The media is funny that way. It's kind of like a baseball team. When one of their own gets thrown at by the opposing pitcher, they all come together to protect their player. Deep down, they know it's bullshit, but outwardly it's all for one and one for all.

All this adds up to a major dilemma for the Administration. Obama has, at best, seven months with which to achieve something substantive for his second term. Immigration reform, gun control, a grand bargain, all are achievable, but the window of opportunity is rapidly closing. The midterms are next year. Good luck getting anything through Congress in an election year. After that it's primary season as both parties strut out their potential hopefuls for 2016. If Obama can't clean up this mess soon, he will be a lame duck president with a hostile Congress and a pissed off press corp chomping at his heals.

Legacies aren't written; they're made. Barack Obama must decide what his will be. And he better do it quick before it's too late.

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