President Bill Clinton was “Slick Willy” long before the Lewinsky perjury scandal. But that one kind of cemented the legacy. The President lied about an affair with a subordinate to a Grand Jury (who was investigating a sexual harassment claim by a former subordinate), lied about lying about it to the American people, and eventually got to keep his job as if none of it happened. Famously, Dick Morris’s polling showed that the American people didn’t care about his boss’s poling so long as it was a matter of personal indiscretion and not a government matter. When Clinton and Co. managed to turn the whole circus into a story about sex, it lost its steam.
President Barack Obama is in plenty of hot water today, and his approval rating is starting to wane. Even the hard left is less than pleased with the NSA revelations.
How does the President blunt the scandal-based criticism and win back his most ardent supporters? The same way Santa punishes bad kids: coal. In a speech on Tuesday, the President has promised bold action through executive fiat on climate change. Coal plants are expected by be in the crosshairs, as they have been since Obama was a candidate.
The rules don’t have to go into effect for Obama to win. The best case scenario for the administration plays out like this:
- Pro-energy groups, who tend to have plenty of allies on the right, react strongly to the rules. Words and actions from the center-right are focused on the President’s extreme agenda. Suddenly, the most influential opinion-leading voices drop the discussions about non-impeachable issues like the IRS targeting the Tea Party and the NSA surveillance programs.
- Environmentally-themed left-wing groups rally to shut down coal plants. There are teach-ins, rallies, and maybe even a hunger strike or two supporting the President’s crusade rather than defending Edward Snowden.
- Energy industry companies and trade groups spend money on paid advertising and grassroots activation to mobilize public support opposing the rule changes. Every computer screen in Washington, D.C. that pulls up Politico sees banner ads about clean coal, and pro-coal TV spots run during the local DC news.
Clinton made it through a scandal by getting people to look at it in a different way and trying to win popular sentiment to his side. Obama may get through a half dozen scandals by prioritizing a hot button issue to create the type of hyper-political environment he claims to hate.