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Second-term syndrome roils president

May. 21, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

Second-term presidencies in this country have frequently been rife with scandal.

Witness Richard Nixon and the Watergate break-in and subsequent White House coverup, which led to the very real likelihood of Nixon being impeached. Instead the 37th president of the United States, a Republican, chose to resign and tell the press, "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore."

Then recall the Iran-Contra scandal during Ronald Reagan's second term, the surreptitious provision of arms to the Nicaraguan contra rebels from profits from arms sales to Iran. Many observers, looking back, believe that this was absolutely an impeachable offense, though Reagan pleaded ignorance of what was going on.

Turn next to Bill Clinton's flirtation with White House intern Monica Lewinsky and his being put through the ringer of impeachment proceedings after a vote in the U.S. Senate. The impeachment trial in the U.S. House ended with a failure to convict and oust Clinton from the White House, but the whole brouhaha was politically painful.

George Bush? Well, early in his second term it became transparently obvious that he and Vice President Dick Cheney had launched the War in Iraq on trumped-up evidence of weapons of mass destruction that Iraq clearly did not possess. Bush ended his presidency with his favorable rating with the American public down in the 30s and made it nearly impossible for Republicans to hold onto the White House.

So here we are circa 2013 with Barack Obama grappling with a triple whammy of seemingly scandalous doings and badly hamstrung in efforts to move forward his second-term agenda of reform in immigration, taxes and gun control.

The three-way squeeze consists of revelations of shifting talking points on the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, that resulted in the deaths of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stephens and three CIA operatives; intimations of "targeting" by the IRS of Tea Party groups applying for 501-c-4 tax-exempt status; and finally Justice Department subpoenas of telephone calls of Associated Press reporters.

Thus far, from what I've looked into, the worst of the three is the last -- the snooping into AP phone records by the government. However, the two that congressional Republicans and rightwing advocates have been trying to make the most hay on have been Benghazi and the IRS flap.

In this, in my view, they have seriously overplayed their hand and risk snatching defeat from the jaws of a potential political victory.

At last look, virtually all documentation regarding the Benghazi terrorist attack was out on the table. Yes, security was lacking but no, reinforcements by air or ground could not have arrived in time to save lives. Yes, the president called it "a terrorist attack" the very next day. No, the attack did not come in response to the low-budget anti-Islamic film produced in L.A.

And almost all the shifts in talking points were done by the CIA, with a few by the State Department and none by the White House. There's no "smoking gun," no apparent cover-up.

As to the IRS "targeting" Tea Party groups, turns out that neither political action groups on the right nor on the left have any claim on securing 501-c-4 nonprofit status. The regs say that C-4s are for groups whose activities are EXCLUSIVELY for social welfare. The IRS has been in the wrong not for "targeting" Tea Party groups but for bending the regs at all over the years and allowing such groups to achieve tax exemptions as a nonprofit.

Finally, which party, do you suppose, voted massively against "shield laws" to protect journalists from the kind of scrutiny they suffered at the hands of Justice Department probers? Not the Democrats but, you guessed it, the Republicans.

John Patrick Grace formerly worked for The Associated Press as a reporter in Chicago, an editor in New York City and a correspondent in Rome. He currently edits and publishes books from downtown Huntington.

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