Obama's Second-Term Blues

Monday, 30 Sep 2013 09:47 AM

By Jon Friedman

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Is President Barack Obama merely a victim of circumstances — and history?
Students of presidential annals will note that U.S. presidents, working in their second terms, do not have time on their side. 
Presidents on the back end of their careers in the White House are historically bedeviled by public-relations disasters. We can try to apply science, psychology, or logic to make sense of the phenomenon — and still come away shaking our heads in confusion as to why a president falls down on the job in his second term. The only thing we can be sure of is the frequency of the developments. 
These fiascos often are scandals that the presidents themselves have created (Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton). No matter what the specific headline screams in each case, the once-invincible POTUS, the erstwhile hero of the campaign trail, winds up spending an inordinate amount of his (and the nation's) time putting out fires.
Who wins? We in the media win because we can exploit these miscues to achieve higher television ratings, and website traffic figures as well as bolstered newspaper and magazine circulation data. 
Of course, you would be wise to save your tears. Remember, when it comes to shooting yourself in the foot, it was invariably the president's mammoth ego, if not his hubris, which put him behind the 8-ball in the first place. Does the word "Watergate" ring a bell?
Obama was recently belittled by critics — many of them with political agendas — for exhibiting what was generally criticized as paralysis by analysis over his handling of the Syria scare over the past month. But even the president's most staunch critics privately would have to grudgingly give him good marks for containing the global threat while maintaining America's dignity — a neat trick on the world stage.
President Obama has managed to sidestep other brushfires — take the NSA spying/snooping public-relations debacle, for instance, without ever seriously having to worry about dealing with the dread "i" word — impeachment. 
Going forward, the problem of a government shutdown dogs Obama. Chances are that this will get worked out, whether the president has anything to do with it or not (and can somehow take credit for the eventual solution). 
President Obama is naturally a keen student of presidential history — as most of his predecessors have been, by the way. It may turn out that his greatest accomplishment was not succumbing mightily to the second-term jinx. He can deal with a brushfire. But he would be smart — and lucky — if he could avoid that dread "i" word by the time he leaves office.
Jon Friedman writes the Media Matrix blog for Indiewire.com. He is also the author of "Forget About Today: Bob Dylan's Genius for (Re)Invention, Shunning the Naysayers, and Creating a Personal Revolution." Read more reports from Jon Friedman — Click Here Now.

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