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Cockiness in the Face of Scandal

All those pesky scandals seem to be taking their toll on the president’s popularity, judging by the latest round of opinion polls, but he remains confident. Cocksure might be the more apt word, in fact, given his recent actions.
The president is so little affected by the Benghazi fiasco that he has appointed as his new national security advisor the woman who played the lead role in peddling by the administration’s lies about it. Although the president has expressed his dismay that the Internal Revenue Service was singling out conservative groups for extraordinary scrutiny, yet the woman who ran the office where it was happening remains on her new job administering the vast Obamacare bureaucracy. The president’s Attorney General, meanwhile, remains in charge of a Justice Department that has been snooping through the phone records of reporters and millions of ordinary American citizens.
Having won re-election despite such scandals as the crony-capitalism Solyndra deal, the deadly Fast and Furious program, and the early revelations about the four deaths in Benghazi, and despite a weak economic recovery and the early warning signs that the Obamacare program was going to be a disaster, the administration’s cockiness is understandable. The president can safely assume that a significant portion of the country isn’t paying any attention, being too engrossed by the celebrity news programs where the president occasionally shows up as a much-fawned-over personage, and that another significant portion is so enamored of him and so hostile to his opponents that it will gladly forgive him any misdeed. Let the headlines inevitably recede, he can plausibly predict, and the more independent-minded voters will return to his cause just in time for the mid-term congressional and allow him to finish out his term with the unrestrained power that he enjoyed in his first two years.
It might work, but there is reason is to hope that it will not. The national media have at long last begun to notice the president’s fallibility, perhaps because the Justice Department’s probe of the Associated Press was one too many assaults on their profession, and although the media still haven’t reached the same levels of hysteria they displayed throughout the Bush administration they are at least more feisty than in the recent past. All the coverage seems to have dented the administration’s reputation for honesty, which never had any basis in reality to begin with, and once trust is lost it is rarely regained. Much of the public will begin look at the administration’s claims on a number of issues with a newfound skepticism, and when they take another look at the economy and Obamacare they’ll be harder to convince that things are going well.
There is no way of knowing how much the scandals have to do with it, but the president has not been successful lately in foisting his agenda on the country. He was routed on his pet gun control proposals, despite the emotional atmosphere that prevailed after the tragic Newtown shootings, and the immigration reforms that he has championed are stalled in Congress despite a bi-partisan effort to push them through while the scandals provide a smoke screen. The president was also forced to accept the “sequester” cuts in the rate of growth in the federal budget, with his efforts to blame every new misfortune on the slight decline failing to persuade anyone but the true believers, and if he has any economic program it doesn’t seem to be getting any attention.
This could all redound to the president’s benefit in the mid-terms, when the Democrats’ battle cry will be that everything is going to hell because the Republicans were too obsessed with insignificant scandals and failed to enact the president’s brilliant plan, whatever it was, but he shouldn’t be too cocky about it. The scandalous headlines will have receded a year from now, but they’ll have left a lingering sense of distrust and washed away the messianic image the president once enjoyed with the help of a partisan press, and they’ll be replaced by stories about health insurance rate hikes and the economic fallout of the Fed’s eventual realization that it can’t keep printing money forever, and the opposition will be both outraged and emboldened.

— Bud Norman

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