The Obama presidency is a bummer for conservatives. They don’t like his politics, and they thought they should have been able to defeat his effort to be re-elected. But they failed and have to live with it.
Increasingly, however, one must wonder whether Barack Obama himself finds his own presidency a bummer. It’s hard to see how he would get much pleasure from it at the moment, and it is doubtful that things are going to improve. Consider.
His domestic legislative agenda has stalled. The president probably thought he had a good chance to get important new gun control legislation passed, but that effort failed. Obama has also made immigration reform a priority, but the prospects for such legislation are also uncertain at best. The so-called Gang of 8 bill was at first thought to be a kind of political juggernaut, but recently even some Democrats have suggested that it cannot pass the Senate. Indeed, even one of its key sponsors, Marco Rubio, has said that it contains deficiencies that need to be remedied. But even if the Gang of 8 bill could pass the Senate, it could not pass the House. This is not to say that the House would not act at all on the question of immigration. But whatever it produces would probably differ in key respects from whatever the Senate might produce, and it is by no means certain that the differences between the two bills could be ironed out into a single piece of legislation that could be approved by both houses. And as the midterm elections approach it might get harder rather than easier to reach agreement on this issue.
In addition to these legislative woes, Obama’s administration is now awash in scandal. A couple of weeks ago it was revealed that the IRS had targeted conservative groups for extra scrutiny in their applications for tax-exempt status. Some early defenders of the president held that this scandal amounted to very little, but that view is hard to defend in light of a senior IRS official’s decision this week to plead the 5th Amendment rather than testify to Congress. In addition, the press is irate with the president over his Justice Department’s looking into the communications of reporters.
The biggest bummer of all, however, must be the Benghazi issue. I don’t see how this can be good for the president, or how it can simply go away. Think about the difference between Benghazi and the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. How do they differ? In one obvious way (besides the fact that one was a victory and the other a defeat): the White House was happy to give to the public a detailed account of the president’s activities during the bin Laden raid: he was following it all in real time in the White House situation room. But it is almost nine months since the Benghazi attack, and we still really don’t know what the president was doing that night. This cannot be good.
There are two possibilities. Either the president was actively engaged in the key decisions that night, which means that he was directly responsible for the decision not to send military support. This decision might be defensible on its merits, but it would be hard to make the public understand it. It seems wrong not to send support to Americans under attack at an American diplomatic facility. Attacking such a facility is the same thing as attacking America itself. But even if the decision could be defended, it is hard to see how the president could defend his administration’s efforts to keep his role in it from the public for the last several months.
On the other hand, the president might not have been directly involved in these decisions. In that case, he handed off responsibility for handling the attack to subordinates and went off and did something else. This, too, would be bad for his reputation.
The reason this must be poison to Obama’s presidency is that the facts of what the president was doing on the night of September 11, 2012 will eventually come out, and the president must know this. The event is too important to remain shrouded in mystery forever. The truth may come out while Obama is still in office, in which case it will damage his ability to execute the office effectively. Or it may come out after he is no longer in office, in which case it will taint his legacy considerably. Either way, it must be unpleasant for him to have the thing hanging over his head.