A time for humility

As a record three scandals engulf Barack Obama’s presidency at once, the three-pronged effect of their damage — a corrosion of the public’s trust in our government and its trust in him, as well as any prospects for leadership in the rest of his term — seems lost upon him. The president doesn’t get it, or he doesn’t really care. Neither response is acceptable. 

The bungled, incomplete and political reaction to the attack on our diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, last September that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, the revelation that Internal Revenue Service employees singled out conservative groups for heightened scrutiny, and the Department of Justice seizure of the records of nearly 100 people at The Associated Press have outraged Republicans and Democrats alike, but inexplicably these scandals appear to have upset President Obama the least of anyone. 

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Even to supporters of the administration who would discount any whiff of corruption, taken together, the three events suggest that no one is in charge. Obama’s reaction is a shrug — he hears about staggering failures of our government at the eleventh hour through news reports as if the least interested citizen, then waits too long to address them and, as of this point, won’t even fire anyone.

Obama threw out some tough words about the IRS, but he scoffed that on Benghazi, there is “no there, there”  — and that frankly, he would just like to get back to his day job. “I sure want to do some governing,” Obama grumbled to top donors at one of three fundraisers he headlined Monday, adding, “I want to get some stuff done. I don’t have a lot of time.” Good luck with that. 

After hosting a few dinners with Republicans, Obama is frustrated that the immigration reform effort is jammed and, at best, on a slow road; that any expansion of background checks for gun sales cannot make it through the House; and that his dream of reversing the sequester with a budget deal that raises taxes and the debt ceiling simultaneously now more closely resemble a nightmare. Obama and his team expected to break a GOP “fever” after his reelection in November. While Republicans now acknowledge the need to reach out to Latino voters through at least an earnest attempt to pass immigration reform, no one in Washington has witnessed any such break in fevers or gridlock. 

Whether out of hubris or naïveté, the president and his men disregard the indisputable unpopularity of the healthcare reform law, disapproval of the administration stimulus program and widespread disappointment in the economic recovery. They have failed to run an effective government and are accountable for all three crises upon us whether they realize it or not. The semantics gymnastics coming from the White House press secretary and spokesmen are not only insulting, but callous. Obama’s passive and irritable responses — in light of the many violations these three incidences reveal — are so inappropriate they are practically Putin-esque. The administration must own up to this soon, lest a majority of Americans decide that not only are we not safe, but we are not free.

It is time to show some humility, determination and genuine concern. Though he might not realize it, there is only one way out of the mess Obama is in — to compromise to get what he can, not what he wants. Obama must work to salvage what’s left before Republicans likely win big in 2014, and he goes from being a lame duck to a soiled, sitting duck amid investigation after investigation. 

If he cannot fathom how toxic this moment is, that it could indeed portend the end and not a pause, he will surely lose these next three years — because then, there truly will be no there, there.


Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.