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.
Jay Carney faced the press today, and… Yikes! That was rough!
On some level, you have to respect Carney. He could have woken up, faxed in a resignation Pat Riley style, rented an office near Farragut Square and started counting money. Instead, he chose to answer questions in the face of Scandalpalooza. And even if he had a rough day, none of the scandals are impeachable.
They are damaging, though. In fact, the last week and a half has heaped layer after layer of bad news on the White House doorstep. The mid-term elections are now 18 months away, and the window for putting up any meaningful legislative wins is maybe 10-12 months. President will have a tougher time advancing his agenda while responding to all the bad news. Ranked below are the President’s top speed bumps (that we know about so far today), with 1 being the most disruptive to the President’s agenda and 5 the least:
- DOJ vs. AP – People appreciate unfairness, so the IRS scandal will have legs. But no reporter will have any trouble understanding the First Amendment threats posed by the Justice Department skimming reporters’ phone records.
- IRS vs. Tea Party Groups – Political players wielding government power against their enemies is easy to understand, and makes for a simple story to write.
- Benghazi – Really, what’s the worst part? The administration’s keystone response to the embassy attack? The lies about what caused the attack? The fact that it looks like the President and his underlings were less than forthcoming due to the impending election? This is pretty complex – for scandals looking to catch on, complex is bad.
- Gosnell – During the election cycle, progressive groups tried (largely successfully) to reframe the abortion debate by talking about narrow hypotheticals. From the White House’s perspective, the silver lining of the week’s tri-scandals is that it takes mainstream attention away from the Gosnell verdict. It will help motivate pro-life advocates, but its broader messaging implications will be muted.
- Obamacare – Small business owners are already feeling the pinch. Kathleen Sebelius has been doing her “Secretary BoJangles” routine trying to fund advertising and encourage signups (like it’s some kind of high school club).
(If I missed anything, or if you disagree, leave a comment or yell at me on Twitter.)
It’s one thing to promote abstinence education, but it’s another thing to provide an example of why abstinence, sometimes, is the best policy.
Disgraced now-former Congressman Mark Souder is not only the most unlikely participant in a sex scandal (barring a late joint Arlen Specter announcement), but he conducted a video interview with the staffer he boinked about abstinence:
This, apparently, is what passes for a sex tape for Republicans – and that’s just fine. Souder kind of looks like an early 90’s character actor – the type of person who’d play the neighbor in a short-lived sitcom.
Of course, today his bit role is as Richard Blumenthal’s best friend.