How to handle a scandal? Pick on coal.

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.


Private Issues

In a recent post on ViralRead, I listed five technology issues that will be hot-buttons in the next six to eight months.  Privacy was at the top of the list.

The NSA/PRISM revelations have exposed that Federal authorities can pull information from technology companies.  For many Americans, the concept of a little surveillance in exchange for thwarted attacks is a fair trade.  Hammering the Obama Administration on the facts of this “scandal” likely won’t be a long-term political winner, and the Administration can’t scale back terrorism investigations while blood still stains the sidewalks in Boston.

And here’s a dose of reality: the “personal” information that the government was getting from the likes of Facebook and Google?  It’s information that people volunteered.  Google doesn’t know anything about you until you search for “Winged Monkeys in Chaps” – even if you’re totally only looking it up for a friend.  Facebook only has pictures of your kids when you upload them.  Your cell phone only triangulates your location via GPS after you buy the phone.  These creature comforts may seem difficult to live without, so we buy the products, use the services, and participate in the networks.  We should understand there are consequences to giving our data to a third party.  It’s not bad that we do it, but we need to be careful.

It is a short jump, though, from “Wow, look at all the stuff the NSA got from Facebook!” to “Hey, why does Facebook have all this stuff in the first place?”  Suddenly, tech companies are the easy bad guys.

This possibility is a likely reason Google is fighting to tell everyone what they forked over to the NSA.

Eric Snowden: Today’s hero. Tomorrow’s villain?

People are passing the hat online to reward Eric Snowden for revealing the NSA’s data collection schemes.  Michael Moore and Glenn Beck both called him a hero, and if those two were both on the Titanic they probably wouldn’t agree to jump into a lifeboat.  He talks about transparency, and he sure seems noble and well-spoken.  The story, which is still unfolding, reads like it was lifted from a movie script: Snowden gave up an apparently fulfilling life, an affluent lifestyle, and a lucrative career to reveal government overreach.

Before booking Eric Snowden Day and throwing a parade, though, it’s worth waiting to see what else is out there about him, or at least what he says next.  When a story seems to come straight out of Hollywood, sometimes it proves too good to be true.