Obama’s Second Term Slide
The President Speaks Loudly and Carries a Small Stick
Any president’s second term inauguration is a melancholy and bittersweet moment. From the stroke of noon on January 20, it’s all downhill.
Gone is the thrill of the first inauguration when the air is filled with promise and expectation. Lost is the excitement of reelection night only two months earlier.
For Barack Obama, the second term blues is now a second term slide. He’s ahead of schedule.
Part of Obama’s dilemma is the almost impossible task of maintaining his unique Oneness. The pure force of modern culture and politics demands something new. The glow of 2008 is long gone.
Writing in the Weekly Standard’s Newsletter, Jonathan Last describes the five stages of a second term presidency – Euphoria, Scandal, Political Impotence, The JV Squad, and Irrelevance. It’s an excellent blueprint with brief observations on Obama’s progress so far. Following Last’s roadmap, here’s an expanded look at Obama’s second term.
Euphoria: Election night 2012 was Obama’s last hurrah. Obama ran a superb campaign that exposed the Romney organization’s ineptitude and overconfidence. Too many Republicans stayed home. Obama’s base turned out. The president won crucial electoral states such as Ohio and Florida and swept the swing states. It was the high water mark of the second term.
Scandal: Not long after the second inaugural, the scandals began to tumble out with a vengeance. The ghost of Benghazi was quickly on display. Then came the IRS suppression of conservative groups. Finally, revelations of snooping by the National Security Agency put the nation on edge. Bungling by congressional committees has spared the president from full accountability, but the days of reckoning are coming soon.
Political Impotence: Presidential power is based on fear. Always aloof to Congress and even his own party, Obama now attracts challenge instead of cooperation. He speaks loudly and carries a small stick. There is no prospect of a great legislative triumph such as Obamacare passed in the first term. He longs for a final victory in the 2014-midterm elections, but his reach may exceed his grasp.
The JV Squad: As in all second terms, the White House revolving door spins like a top. Exhausted staffers flee the scene for high-paying jobs in the media or lobbying firms. The cabinet becomes a dumping ground for second stringers such as Chuck Hagel. Top staff jobs go to also-rans like Susan Rice.
Irrelevance: Nothing stings a president more than irrelevance. Once triumphant speeches become ho-hum media events. Grand announcements of new proposals fall flat. The mad dash to Iowa and New Hampshire shifts the focus to the next presidential election cycle more than two years before it begins. Like an old movie star, the president becomes a symbol of nostalgia. All that is left is the tedious job of building some sort of legacy.
Second presidential terms are fraught with peril. Some of it is tied directly to the constitutional limit of two terms and the resulting loss of power. But some is self-inflicted. Occasionally, the chickens do come home to roost.
During the course of his career, Walker has worked in Chicago, Washington DC, New York City, and Phoenix. He served as a reporter in Chicago, a press secretary and speechwriter in Washington, and in numerous positions in New York in corporate and financial services communications.
Walker is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.