Editorial: Obama's 2nd term stumbles out of gate

8:51 PM, Jun. 15, 2013  |  Comments
President Barack Obama.
President Barack Obama.
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The Affordable Care Act could make or break President Barack Obama's second term and ultimately put a stamp on his legacy.

Beset by a Congress that cannot agree on anything and a dizzying supply of scandals and controversies, the success or failure of the so-called Obamacare could sink his presidency within the first year of his second term.

Second terms are always difficult, but for Obama, "even absent scandals he has a real tough hill to climb," said Charley Jacobs, associate professor of political science at St. Norbert College.

Since Jan. 3, when Obama signed a bill that averted the "fiscal cliff" and its extensive tax increases and spending cuts, the Obama administration has not been able to get anything substantial through Congress.

Immigration reform might break that streak, but that's only because it's politically expedient to both Republicans and Democrats.

Instead, the Obama administration has been hampered by one controversy after another. They've led to hearings and investigations that have directed attention away from the more dire needs, like the economy and jobs. For example:

? Benghazi. Fresh revelations about who knew what and when and how brought this issue back to light.

? Syria. Perception is key here. The public probably has no interest getting involved in another Middle East conflict, but inaction might lead some to speculate, or confirm their view, that Obama is a weak world leader.

? Department of Justice. News that the DOJ secretly scoured journalists' phone records eroded the president's earlier claims of an open and transparent administration. It was payback against journalists and their sources. Any DOJ transgression leads to talk about previous ones, such as the so-called Fast and Furious program.

? Boston Marathon bombing. The fact that there was a terrorist attack on American soil cannot help any president's standing, even if it's shown there's nothing he could have done to prevent it.

? The IRS. The revelation that tax returns of conservative groups were targeted by the IRS may be the most serious of the real and perceived misdeeds. It reeks of vindictiveness and pettiness, and it goes against our democratic principles of not being persecuted for having an opinion. Whether Obama had a role in authorizing those actions, his administration bears responsibility and he'll ultimately be tied to it by the public.

? NSA revelations. The fact that the National Security Agency is combing through phone records shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention. If you remember the authorization of the Patriot Act - which was opposed by only one senator, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin - then you should know this type of snooping in the name of security was covered in that. Plus, Patriot Act backers surely can't be surprised or upset by these revelations.

Whether you call each a scandal or whether you think it's much ado about nothing, these issues have distracted many from what the president has been trying to accomplish.

Spread out over a four-year term, these issues might not seem like much, but with all of them revealed in the first six months of the year, they have hurt Obama. St. Norbert's Jacobs called it, "death by a thousand cuts" because, over time, the public might view Obama "as weak, ineffectual and sort of a prevaricator."

Indeed, broken campaign promises and shifting policies are nothing new for Obama, or any other president.

What does seem new here is the way Obama has been hamstrung by his political opponents and his administration's own missteps and how so quickly into his second term these issues have rained down on the president.

The next big issue will be the roll out of more of the Affordable Care Act. On Oct. 1, the health insurance marketplaces are supposed to go online for the uninsured, and Medicaid expansion goes into effect Jan. 1.

It faces a huge misperception battle. According to a USA TODAY story, four in 10 Americans believe it has been overturned by the Supreme Court or has been repealed by Congress.

Plus, any major policy overhaul takes time to get a foothold. The same is expected of Obamacare. It might be a year or two of stories about the inability to get, as well as the cost of, health care coverage before the plan runs smoothly.

If people perceive it as an unmitigated disaster, it will be hard for the president to get much else accomplished in his remaining years. The time it takes for the ACA to work out the kinks or make adjustments might be too late for Obama.

In the meantime, the public watches and waits, much like the Obama administration is doing. "The perception I have is Obama to a certain extent is hoping the Republicans mortally wound themselves with the strategy they're using," Jacobs said. "Absent that kind of failure, there's nothing Obama can do."

That's sad but true. Yet biding one's time while waiting out obstructionists does not help the American public. Obama needs to keep moving the country forward, and those who seek to block the president's every move need to realize the more noble thing is to work with their opponents than to secure re-election by voting against every proposal of their rivals.

Now, more than ever, we need to make "doing the right thing" the political currency needed for re-election and political success, for the Obama administration as well as those who oppose him.

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