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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Surviving Second-Term Scandals

The current "perfect storm" of scandals swirling around President Obama is unlikely to result in serious damage to his Administration or to his resignation or impeachment, if history is any guide.

Two of the last three two-term presidents were extremely popular.  Both Presidents Ronald Reagan and William J. Clinton had high approval ratings and personal popularity with the public. Nevertheless, both sustained serious scandals that (some hoped) threatened to ruin or prematurely end their presidencies. But both survived and arguably strengthened their reputations and popularity in the process.

Exhibit A -- Iran-Contra, which had reporters predicting impeachment or resignation in November 1986.  

Result: Reagan served out the rest of his term.  Televised hearings the following summer introduced us to Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, who parlayed his 15 minutes of fame into several serious candidacies for U.S. Senate and to a radio talk show career.  Reagan withdrew from public life in 1994 after announcing he had Alzheimer's, but remained very beloved.  In fact, he was so beloved that the evening after his passing in June 2004, Canadians gave him a moment of silence before Game 6 of that year's Stanley Cup Finals in Calgary, Alberta.  Americans driving to see him laying in state at the Capitol had to park their cars on a major highway leading to the Capitol and walk several miles to complete their journey.  

Exhibit B -- Monicagate, where real perjury (resulting in President Clinton's disbarment!) was obscured by the salacious, led to similar predictions of regime change. 

Result: Clinton served out the rest of his term.  In fact, some of his most ardent pursuers -- House Speaker Newt Gingrich and longterm congressman Bob Livingston (R-LA) -- resigned over the course of their pursuit of Clinton.  After leaving office, Clinton remained (and remains) beloved, so beloved that the nation virtually stopped when it was announced he was undergoing quadruple bypass surgery at the relatively young age of 57 in 2004. 

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