Special to WorldTribune.com
President Barack Obama has been embroiled in multiple, crippling scandals since the start of his second term.
Consider: Benghazi, snooping on Associated Press reporters, the Justice Department’s surveillance of Fox News reporter James Rosen, IRS abuses, investigation into the death of Navy SEAL Team Six, the implosion of Obamacare and the discovery of the mammoth NSA surveillance program that tramples upon American liberties. All of these have led to a severe drop in his approval ratings, especially among young voters, a key element of his base.
Political consultants in Washington, D.C. have a formula for coping with scandals: first distance yourself, then express outrage and bury the issues in committees and investigations until the public forgets.
Subsequently, change the conversation as soon as possible. If these approaches do not work, they generally advise the leader to take a foreign trip or a few trips across the nation. This usually alters the national mood and rekindles goodwill.
If all else fails, there are two very last resorts: play the race card, somehow, some way. If even that does not work: start a war.
This is Scandal Response 101 in the nation’s capital. And President Barack Obama has been following this formula very closely.
As the Benghazi scandal brewed, Obama implicitly passed the blame off to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and removed himself from that evening’s fateful events, according to the skewered narrative of his press team. We still do not know where he was that night and what exactly he did or did not do. Then, an accountability report was drawn based on a superficial investigation and Congress finally took over the investigation and is further exploring the issue, with many closed-door sessions with top military leaders. The result? Benghazigate remains unresolved — as the administration gambles it will eventually fade from public view.
Roughly the same strategy was applied to each of the other scandals: investigations, congressional hearings, public speeches with outrage and pledges to get results and lots of chatter from the nation’s talking heads on both sides of the political aisle. The result? All of them remain unsettled, with no one yet held accountable for severe transgressions of the Constitution.
Throughout these brouhahas, Obama has tried several times to change the conversation by starting a new crusade. In June, at the Brandenburg Gate in Germany, he declared it was time to negotiate with Russia to “reduce our deployed strategic nuclear weapons up to one third” in order to ultimately achieve the grand objective of “the security of a world without nuclear weapons — no matter how distant that dream may be.” Even the previously fawning Europeans thought he went over-the-top and lampooned his latest initiative.
Shortly after that proposal failed to catch fire, Obama delivered a speech at Georgetown University on how he intends to save the planet from the perils of climate change. His “new national action climate plan” was another one of the president’s “comprehensive strategies” that ends up being neither comprehensive nor much of a strategy, as he has to eventually forsake most of his half-baked schemes to the constraints of reality.
In this grandiose speech, Obama pledged to use executive power to promote climate change because Congress has failed to act. So, essentially he laid out directives for the EPA to implement and stated that the market will find ways to absorb the new regulations. In this way, he can protect “the laughter of children, a quiet sunset, all the hopes and dreams of posterity.”
How’s that for an attempt to distract from scandal, America? The earth needs our attention or we risk snuffing out the very laughter from our dear children’s mouths.
Unfortunately for the president, the NSA scandal continued to dominate the headlines throughout the summer and the congressional investigations on all the scandals churned, with drips of negative press emerging on an almost daily basis. The president’s credibility, even amongst his diehard supporters, began to crumble.
It was time to move on to step three: foreign travel as a means of changing the conversation. The president and his family travelled to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania in late June.
Africa is always a sure-fire sympathy-getter. There is the white-guilt syndrome that is implicitly invoked: why are they poor and we rich? There is the reminder that slavery began in Africa and somehow we are responsible for this and should thus be nice to Obama now. And of course, dredge up Nelson Mandela to recall that white folks in South Africa practiced apartheid. The president paid homage to the great Mandela as “an inspiration to the world and a personal hero” while he lay gravely ill. Obama also announced another aid program to bring electricity to sub-Saharan Africa. Thus, Mandela and African aid — two surefire approval boosters, right?
Wrong. The press pounced on the price tag of the trip: the Washington Post reported the Africa tour would cost more than $60 million, perhaps $100 million. Americans, still stuck in a stagnant economy, remained in a foul mood — all the more so since the federal government was in the midst of bruising sequester-related budget cuts. In short, there was too much pain at home to sympathize with Africa this year.
But back in the USA, a golden opportunity to play the race card emerged: In mid-July, the trial of George Zimmerman came to an end with the jury declaring him to be not guilty. In a surprise speech, the president of the largest superpower the world has ever known weighed in on a local criminal matter that took place in Sanford, Florida.
The Ivy League-educated leader of the free world stated unequivocally that “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago” — a statement that if uttered by any other person in America would be deemed deeply racist because the only thing they have in common is that they are both black: Was he suggesting all black people look the same?
No, of course not. The president was saying that “the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country, and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history.” Hence, America needs to engage in “soul searching.”
Moreover, the president fostered deeper racial divisions. The Trayvon Martin case “contributes,“ said Obama, “to a sense that if a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario, that, from top to bottom, both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different.”
This was his last gambit to distract from scandals before going for the nuclear option: he therefore pretended to be the peacemaker while fostering racial strife and national discord.
Yet, even the contentious Zimmerman trial and its aftermath turned out to have a short shelf life.
An even more gripping story captured the public imagination: In a Russian airport, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was begging for amnesty. The political elite, including Dick Cheney — who suddenly re-emerged from obscurity with his ticker still ticking — tried desperately to present Snowden as a traitor. However, he was increasingly perceived by the American public as a hero.
This tale is better than a Hollywood movie — and the villain in the piece is the president. And that means the scandals will continue to plague Obama in the long, endless summer of 2013.
Neither interminable Congressional hearings, inconclusive investigations, the dream to end nuclear weapons, a strategy to save the planet from global warming, pledges to help Africa and an impromptu intervention to heal American racial divisions have been enough to alter the public perception that this Obama is untrustworthy. Nothing has rekindled that old hope-change-2008 magical feeling.
And now, in late August, Syrian President Bashar Assad has used chemical weapons in his two-year attempt to quell civil discord, say White House officials clamoring for something newsworthy to do. At last, Obama sees a way out of his morass: He can rally the nation in a bombing campaign, a grand humanitarian move.
This will send a signal to the world that if you cross an Obama “red line,” the American people will bomb you without a clear strategic objective or a national interest at stake.
This, Obama thinks, will finally restore his credibility, redeem his tarnished reputation and change the conversation.
Pity the poor Syrian, when the bombs are dropped on his head, who will soon be a casualty, not of war, but of Obama’s repeated efforts to escape the unforgiving scrutiny of an awakened American people.
Yet, what this president and his political consultants do not quite understand is that Scandal Response 101 might save a leader if he were trying to escape one mishap, a la Monica Lewinsky, perhaps. But this playbook cannot rescue the politician who is being cut apart by multiple, grave scandals at once.
No need to bomb Syria, Mr. President. Better to just resign gracefully while you still can.
Grace Vuoto is the Editor of Politics and Culture at World Tribune. The founder of the Edmund Burke Institute for American Renewal, she is the host of American Heartland with Dr. Grace on WTSB Radio Saturdays at 3:00. See show and archives at: the Grace Vuoto channel at WorldTribuneTV.